Competition watchdog lays out ways to improve comparison websites

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has uncovered concerns among consumers of inadequate “transparency, accessibility and clarity about use of personal information,” in co-called digital comparison tools (DCTs) which include price comparison websites.

While it found “a mostly positive picture of people’s use of, and attitudes to DCTs.” the CMA said they could “do more to explain how they protect consumers and give them control.”

The CMA’s findings include a perception among respondents to its study that “some DCTs appear not to be doing all they could or should to make their sites user-friendly for some vulnerable people and some may not be meeting the requirements of relevant equality law.” However, the watchdog said it had seen “no evidence that DCTs make it easier for suppliers to discriminate between active and inactive consumers.”

The CMA said it had heard concerns that “an undue focus on price” in DCTs could lead to the “hollowing out” of products, meaning erosion of product quality."

It said its evidence “in general” did not suggest harmful hollowing out “but we did find more could be done with quality metrics, both in terms of their content and the ways in which they are presented on DCTs, to support effective comparisons.”

While the study focused on car insurance, home insurance, energy, broadband, flights, and credit cards and touched on other industries including mobile phones, travel insurance, mortgages, it could carry lessons for the business retail market in water.