The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) today released its report into the Australian web site industry, stating they will be keeping a close eye on the industry and will be encouraging consumers to report misconduct.
Comparator websites include those comparing general products such as Getprice, Shopbot, Myshopping and Ask plus there are many other comparator sites comparing energy plans, air travel and accommodation.
But as ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said: “… any new industry may have a few bad apples.”
Rickard said this industry is an ACCC “priority” and “.. players in the comparator website industry are on notice that we are watching. Anyone that comes across concerning conduct within the industry is encouraged to report it to the ACCC.”
In the report, the ACCC examined whether the comparator websites are unbiased, impartial or independent and how they rank products or services. It also looked closely to see if there are any undisclosed commercial relationships affecting recommendations to consumers.
Early next year, the ACCC will provide some guidelines to let consumers know how to check they are comparing apples with apples. The ACCC will also release best practice guidelines to help comparator websites to comply with Australia’s competition and consumer protection laws.
The ACCC recently secured over $2 million in penalties against comparator website EnergyWatch for misleading advertising related to representations about the nature of the Energy Watch service and the savings consumers would make by switching energy retailers through the Energy Watch service.
As well, Compare The Market Pty Ltd paid a penalty of $10,200 following the issue of an infringement notice by the ACCC in relation to claims made in recent advertising promoting Compare the Market’s health insurance comparison service.
“Comparator websites can assist consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions when comparing what are often quite complex products, and can promote healthy competition by assisting small or new service providers to compete more effectively,” Rickard said.
“However, the ACCC is concerned that poor conduct by some industry participants may undermine these benefits and mislead consumers. Lack of transparency is central to these concerns – both in terms of ‘front-of-shop’ and ‘out-the-back’ activities.”