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Study

Comparison tools and third-party verification schemes

Details

Publication date
18 May 2018

Description

Consumers are increasingly relying on comparison tools (websites, apps) to compare products and services according to their prices, quality or any other parameter. This is why in 2012 the European Commission started to work with stakeholders to address the reliability and transparency of these tools (for details see background).

One of the key deliverables of this work was a market study mapping comparison tools in the EU and looking at how they were used by consumers. The study was finalised at the end of 2014.

Key findings:

  • More than 1 042 comparison tools have been mapped. This figure covers both websites (910) and applications (132).
  • 74% of EU consumers have used a comparison tools and 40% are using them at least once a month.
  • Behavioural experiments show a clear influence of user reviews and guest ratings. Link position on a search engines’ results highly affects consumers’ choice. 
comparison_tool_screenshot1.png
  • For 79% of consumers using comparison tools, theprice comparison aspect is the most important.
  • 35% of comparison tools users answer that the use of a comparison tools result in a purchase.
  • The way products are ranked on the comparison tool influences the final choice of the consumer (e.g. if the ranking is based on the prices of rooms, consumers choose the best deal in 39% of the case but if it is ranked according to other criteria this goes down to 34%). 
comparison_tool_screenshot2.png
  • Comparison tool ownership and operation is overwhelmingly private sector-based across the EU (84% of tools identified in the mapping exercise). However, several consumer organisations and national regulators are running their own comparison tool.
  • 96% of comparison tools for hotels provided offers from abroad but the average for the various sectors looked at is lower, at 37%.
  • 65% of consumers surveyed had experienced a problem when using a comparison tool (e.g. unavailability of the product in 54% of the case, incorrect prices in 21% of the cases).
  • Less than half of the comparison tools mapped were willing to disclose details on their supplier relationship, description of business model or the sourcing of their price and product data (e.g. whether from the supplier or gathered independently from web sources). These shortcomings are amplified with apps.
  • 11% of the comparison tools did not provide any contact details
  • Only 34% of the comparison tools provided information on how to file a complaint. Out of those, only 34% contained a link to an alternative-dispute resolution (ADR) body or provided contact details on how to contact the ADR body.
  • There is only a very limited number of schemes (e.g. codes of conduct, accreditation schemes, guidelines, trustmarks…) existing at national level to guarantee the reliability of these tools.

The study confirms that enforcement of existing legislation (such as Directive 2005/29/EC on unfair commercial practices or Directive 2011/83/EC on consumer rights) on these tools should be stepped-up and that there is room for further guidance and/or co-regulation to improve the reliability and transparency of these tools. The study also lists a series of key principles which comparison tools should respect.

These findings will be used to further work with comparison tools operators to ensure they provide transparent and reliable comparison to consumers.  

Background

The informal Group set up by the Commission brings together representatives from consumer organisations, business associations, national consumer authorities and enforcers, sector-specific regulators as well as comparison tools operators. Discussions within the Group led to the adoption by the stakeholders in March 2013 of a report , which outlines a series of issues pertaining to the functioning of comparison tools as well as a list of recommendations on the criteria (e.g. transparency, quality of information, reliability, impartiality, compliance) comparison tools should respect so that consumers get the most out of them and are not misled.

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