ACCC pledges crackdown on comparison sites

By Rosie Baker | 14 March 2014

Comparison sites like Compare the Market, iSelect, Getprice and Shopbot may find themselves under the microscope of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The watchdog did not name names, but has promised to clampdown on unscrupulous, misleading and deceptive websites. Companies that add unseen costs to online purchases are also in line for closer scrutiny.

Price comparison sites and drip pricing are new areas of focus chairman Rod Sims said yesterday at the ACCC’s National Consumer Congress in Sydney. It has been investigating group buying, in-app purchases, group buying and dating sites to weed out “scams” and “uphold online integrity” and is now turning its attention to the comparison market.

The move is part of the ACCC's efforts to “protect consumers in the digital age” by giving them confidence to embrace new technology and not fall for misleading and deceptive digital practices.

Airlines are common culprits of drip pricing, where additional costs such as credit card and booking fees and baggage costs are only revealed at the final stages of online booking.

The ACCC wants to improve standard for online sites and says it will take action against offending sites.

“As part of our role we have worked to help empower consumers and small businesses by combining enforcement with education and awareness activities,” Mr Sims said.

“When there is anti-competitive conduct, consumers often bear the cost by paying higher prices. Drip pricing involves the incremental disclosure of fees and charges over an online booking process. It causes both competition and consumer detriment.”

Consumer watchdog Choice has also flagged comparison sites as a point on contention online. It carried out an investigation last year and found comparisons were often swayed by commercial involvement and didn't compare all products.

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