Don't bank on comparison websites to get the best deal - simples!
ALMOST half of consumers who use online price comparison websites could have saved money by shopping elsewhere, research has found.
A survey by independent research firm ConsumerIntelligence.com showed 46 per cent of people who had shopped for products using comparison sites found they could get the same product cheaper elsewhere.
Despite that, almost a quarter of users said they intended to increase their use of the sites in the next 12 months - with just 3 per cent planning to cut back on comparing products online.
The growing market is dominated by the likes of GoCompare.com, Comparethemarket.com and Moneysupermarket.com. "Price comparison websites have revolutionised shopping around, but it is a basic failure of the service if users then find it was cheaper elsewhere," said Ian Hughes, managing director of ConsumerIntelligence.com.
The Scotsman's own investigation backed up claims that price comparison sites do not necessarily offer the best deals.
An inquiry about insurance for a six-year-old Audi TT coupe, revealed that, while Comparethemarket.com, Moneysupermarket.com and GoCompare.com offered a best price of 1,365.97, 1,450.90 and 1,337.11 respectively, from Kwik Fit, Halifax and Diamond, by going directly to Halifax's website, the customer could get a quote of 1,269.73.
Only Confused.com offered a better price than the website - 1,251.25 from Diamond.
About 90 per cent of people questioned said they had used price comparison websites to help them find the best price on items ranging from financial services products and utilities to holidays, flights and phone or broadband deals.
Consumer Intelligence's claim comes weeks after the Financial Services Authority (FSA) reprimanded comparison sites for offering customers insurance deals they may not be eligible for.
The FSA said the sites had failed to comply with rules "applicable to the regulated activities of arranging and advising on insurance".
The latest research found customers would be unlikely to warm to the hypothetical idea of an FSA-run comparison site, even if it was more tightly regulated than the current market players, with only 52 per cent of people saying they would use such a service.
Search engine Google - which bought BeatThatQuote.com for 37.7 million in March - is one of the newest firms to join the growing market.
"The advent of increased competition with Google in the market and FSA regulation demonstrates the attraction of the price comparison model, and all the indications are that the market will continue to grow," Mr Hughes said.
But price comparison sites hit back over the research, insisting the fluctuations were due to the time the quotes were given.
John Miles, business development director at Gocompare.com, said: "This research appears to be deeply flawed.
"Whether you're buying bananas, booking a holiday or arranging your car insurance, prices change all the time and comparison sites can only compare the prices offered for products and services at the time when you actually carry out the comparison."
A spokesman for Consumer Advice Scotland said: "The key to finding the best deals is, of course, getting information.
"But you have to make sure that any source of information you use is completely independent, and has nothing to gain from leading you in a particular direction. You can't just trust the first one you find."
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