Here's why the government wants to investigate price comparison websites

There are concerns around issues of trust and transparency

A government watchdog has launched an investigation into price comparison websites and apps, in an effort to pin down how well they serve both consumers and businesses, and also to potentially make it clearer how these services earn their cash.

The Competition and Markets Authority (or CMA – the organisation was formed from a merger of the Office of Fair Trading and Competition Commission a few years back) is planning a major review across all industries including the likes of utilities, car and home insurance, broadband, flights and banking.

The idea is to explore what consumers and businesses expect from such comparison services, and how the user experience can be improved, along with considering why some industries have seen more successful efforts in this arena than others.

And the CMA also intends to address thornier issues such as the impact that price comparison sites have on their listed suppliers, and whether arrangements between the sites and suppliers could somehow restrict competition.

Money, money, money...

Furthermore, there are also some concerns over levels of transparency, and the government watchdog intends to mull over whether users should be made more aware of how price comparison services make their money. On a broader level, trust is an issue, as well.

As Andrea Coscelli, CMA Acting Chief Executive, commented: "Digital comparison tools have played a big part in changing markets for the better, bringing new ways of doing things and forcing businesses to up their game … [but] some people have also raised concerns about certain issues, including whether consumers can trust the information that's available, and the study will look at these issues."

The CMA wants to hear views from any interested parties at this stage, with the deadline for submissions being set at October 24. That material will then be considered and the watchdog will subsequently publish a report on its findings inside the next year – which could well come with recommendations for changes to the price comparison industry.