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18 Jan 2022

'Cheapest' price on comparison sites varies by up to 210%

Make sure you check multiple shopping sites if you want to find the cheapest deal

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.

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PriceSpy cheapest comparison site overall

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:

  • The 55-inch Samsung UE55TU7020 TV was available for £225.51 (89%) less via Kelkoo than if you bought via Google Shopping or PriceRunner
  • PriceSpy's cheapest price for a L'Oreal lipstick was £4.49 at OnBuy, compared with £13.94 from Beauty Expert via Kelkoo - that's £9.45 (or 210%) more
  • The cheapest price via Google Shopping and Idealo for Emporio Armani Diamonds She perfume (50ml) was £31.95 from All Beauty; Kelkoo's cheapest price was £68.89 from Notino (£36.94/116% more)
  • We found a £140 difference on the Bosch KGN39VWEAG fridge freezer depending on whether you bought it via Google Shopping (cheapest) or Idealo/Kelkoo (joint priciest)

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):

  • Beauty Expert
  • Box.co.uk
  • Direct Discount West Midlands
  • Distons
  • Electrical Discount UK
  • Electrical Experience
  • Electrical Shop
  • IT Hut
  • Look Fantastic
  • Webbs Electricals

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.

What are your rights when returning products?

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.

How to check whether a retailer is dodgy

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 best and worst shops. 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.

How do price comparison sites work?

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.

How did the price comparison sites respond to Which?'s findings?

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.

Retailer findings in detail

Here's what was wrong with each retailer's returns policy:

  • Beauty Expert: states customers have 14 days to cancel an order on its returns page, but doesn't explain that you have a further 14 days to send items back. Its terms and conditions get it wrong again, saying shoppers have just seven days to cancel the contract.
  • Box.co.uk: while most of its faulty goods policy is correct, it incorrectly states twice that customers have to inform them within seven days if an item is defective.
  • Direct Discount West Midlands: no information about its faulty goods policy or shoppers' right to cancel or make returns. However, the retailer does state it has a 30-day money-back guarantee.
  • Distons: has information in breach of the law when it comes to its faulty goods policy. Distons says that if a customer's product becomes faulty after 30 days, but within the manufacturer's guarantee period, the manufacturer should be contacted and an engineer will be arranged to repair or replace the faulty item. Shoppers should not be passed on to the manufacturer.
  • Electrical Discount UK: gives conflicting and incorrect information regarding cancellations, returns, damaged goods and faulty goods. It incorrectly states that shoppers have just seven days to cancel their order after it's been delivered, doesn't specify that shoppers have a further 14 days after notifying them to send their items back, and states that customers must do so at their own expense.
  • Electrical Experience: returns policy doesn't state that customers have a further 14 days after purchase to send unwanted items back if they wish to. The retailer's faulty goods rules are also incorrect, saying shoppers can only return products 'less than 28 days old' - actually, you should have 30 days for a return, repair or replacement.
  • Electrical Shop: charges returns fees and references the Distance Selling Regulations which are no longer in force. It says it doesn't accept returns of goods that are unwanted but not faulty. Electrical Shop states that any order deemed to be ordered incorrectly will be 'subjected to a 30% restocking fee if the boxes have been opened' and for 'products unopened a charge of 10% applies'. Its faulty goods rules are incorrect too, saying it will change or refund products found to have a fault or defect within 28 days - this should be 30.
  • IT Hut: wording incorrectly limits the entire policy to 30 days, plus there's no information on shoppers' right to cancel an order. IT Hut says it only offer repairs and/or replacements for faulty products, but that is the only reference it makes to faulty goods.
  • Look Fantastic: doesn't specify that customers have a further 14 days to send items back after notifying a retailer that you're making a return, and says you must tell them within 48 hours of receipt if you want to make a return. In addition, Look Fantastic says it cannot issue refunds for unwanted goods owing to the 'perishable nature of goods on sale' and that refunds or exchanges will only be offered on products that are faulty, and were clearly so at the time of dispatch. When it comes to faulty goods, it asks shoppers to inform it via its message centre and highlight any issues with GHD or L'Oreal items with those manufacturers directly.
  • Webbs Electricals: incorrect faulty goods policy asking customers to let it know within 28 days of delivery if an item is defective. Its returns policy states shoppers have a cooling-off period of 14 calendar days, but does not outline that you have a further 14 days following that to send an order back. In fact, it says customers may return items at their own cost within 14 calendar days of receipt.

What did the retailers say?

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