A Which? investigation has revealed you could pay over three times the price for the same item depending on which price comparison website you use.
We checked the cheapest prices quoted on Google Shopping, Idealo, Kelkoo, Price Runner and PriceSpy for 20 popular products in September 2021 and found massive differences for several individual items.
Our snapshot investigation into shopping platforms found there are big savings to be made if you use an assortment of price comparison sites rather than just one. In fact, shoppers buying every item on our list could have saved £828.71 (or 19%) by using a range of price comparison sites instead of just one.
Here, we explain what we found and how you can ensure you get the best deal when you're shopping.
If you bought all 20 items on the list based on the cheapest prices given by just one price comparison site, you would have spent the least by using PriceSpy (£3,857.04) and the most via Kelkoo (£4,140.59) - that's a difference of £283.55. However, Kelkoo was cheapest for TVs, despite being the priciest on average.
Google Shopping was the second-cheapest site overall (£4,036.63), followed by Price Runner (£4,107.94) and Idealo (£4,131.86).
But we also found some huge differences when looking at individual items:
So why the differences? No comparison sites list all available retailers, so it's best to check more than one site.
Don't trust retailers just because they're on comparison sites
While comparison sites do have a duty to make information as clear and accurate as possible, they're under no obligation to check the T&Cs of the retailers they work with, which unfortunately means that the onus is on you to do your homework before making a purchase.
Almost a quarter (23%) of the 43 stores listed by the comparison sites in our investigation gave incorrect information about your rights to a refund, repair or replacement on their websites. These retailers were as follows (more information on each retailer at the end of the article):
Other stores, meanwhile, had bare-bones faulty goods and returns policies that could have provided much better information on your consumer rights. While not necessarily giving out inaccurate information, these retailers' websites were often not clear or comprehensive enough in explaining your rights to a refund in the event of an unwanted or faulty product.
The Consumer Contracts Regulations give you a cancellation period that begins the moment you place your order and ends 14 days from the day you receive your goods. You then have a further 14 days from the date you notify the retailer that you'd like to cancel your order in which to return the products to them.
When it comes to faulty items, you have the legal right to a refund if you notice a fault with your product within 30 days of receipt, regardless of what the store's return policy states. If you discover a fault more than 30 days but within the first six months of possessing your goods, you have to give the retailer a chance to make a repair or replacement. If that's unsuccessful, you can then ask to be refunded.
After the first six months, the burden of proof switches to you to prove the fault was present at the time of purchase. However, the law doesn't detail how you can do this, which can make things tricky. But stores should not fob you off to the manufacturer if you have a faulty product, as your statutory consumer rights are with the retailer.
Online retailers must also have contact information such as an email address or phone number on their website so that you can get in touch if you encounter any issues with your order or simply want to return it.
When shopping through a price comparison platform, it's worth doing your research on retailers you haven't heard of to ensure you end up with a quality product and top-notch service.
The first place to check is Which?'s guide to the . In it, we rate hundreds of stores broken down by category of product. However, as the guide is based on survey data, we're only able to include shops that are widely used enough for us to get decent numbers of shopper reviews.
If you can't find the retailer on our page, try searching online for reviews of it - but take these with a pinch of salt, as it's very easy for companies to buy fake reviews so they appear better than they really are. If you're using a review site, make sure you read thenegative reviews rather than just the most recent or 'helpful'-voted feedback.
You could also check that the retailer lists valid contact details on its site, as well as correct returns information (see section above).
Taking these steps will help you protect yourself, whether you buy via a price comparison site or directly from a retailer.
Price comparison websites show you prices of goods and services from a range of companies. They exist for a host of consumer items, but the most well-known tend to specialise in financial products like insurance and credit cards as well as energy tariffs.
These websites claim to list the cheapest deals, but because of the way they make their money (usually by taking a commission if you click a link and go on to buy something), they don't usually show every available price on the market - which means you could end up paying more than you need to.
What's more, price comparison sites may not always list retailers that provide the standard of customer service and product quality you'd expect. Factors like customer service, delivery and returns are often just as important as cost but price comparison sites are under no obligation to check these out before featuring a retailer.
Price comparison platforms have different legal responsibilities to customers than retailers. This is because price comparison sites only provide information to shoppers, who can opt to go to the vendor's site or not to make a purchase. Given you don't complete transactions directly with price comparison sites, the platforms are not liable if anything is wrong with your goods; that responsibility lies with the retailer.
Price comparison platforms do, however, have a duty to make information as clear and accurate as possible.
Katy Phillips, senior brand and communications manager at Idealo, said: 'Our holistic view of creating a positive experience when shopping online means we have taken the decision to only display the prices of our approved partner shops. Unlike other price comparison sites, we don't scrape prices from the web, but rather receive updated pricing feeds directly from the shops themselves. There can be at times slight delays or technical problems with the feed, which can occasionally lead to prices not being updated.'
Christine Gouldthorp, consumer expert at PriceRunner, told Which?: 'Looking at smaller product samples is always a challenge as price comparison services will have different market coverage. The best way to get the cheapest price on a product is to use a price comparison service with as many products and as many connected merchants as possible.'
Ellie Yeardye, consumer expert at PriceSpy, said the site offers consumers 'full transparency and impartiality, helping them cut through the noise by doing the legwork and showing the lowest prices across retailers, while also providing extensive price history data to help people shop smarter and avoid paying over the odds'.
Neither Google Shopping nor Kelkoo responded to our request for comment.
Here's what was wrong with each retailer's returns policy:
We contacted every retailer listed above with our findings. The only one that replied to us was Distons.
Ryan Diston, director, said it's 'more convenient' for both Distons and its customers when shoppers contact the manufacturer directly. 'For us to replace a faulty appliance, we require the manufacturer to give us approval to offer a replacement and return the faulty item back to the manufacturer.
'In most cases, the manufacturer requires an engineer to inspect the appliance to determine whether or not the fault occurred due to a manufacturing issue or user error.
'A lot of manufacturers will not deal with us if we contact them on behalf of customers to report faulty appliances due to General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This can be frustrating for both our customers and ourselves.'
Additional research by Hannah Downes