What we think about energy comparison websites

9th Dec, 2021

If you’ve ever typed the words ‘energy’ or ‘electricity’ into Google – or searched for anything that suggests you’re keen to find a new power plan or provider – you’ll almost certainly have been presented with a bunch of comparison websites in the ad positions (usually the top four results). There are the well-known ones like Canstar and Finder, plus a growing number of smaller players all chancing their luck, with names like ‘Wizard’ and ‘Monster’. But don’t be taken in by their names! Competition on Google is fierce – believe us – we buy ad spots to ensure our own website is visible at the top of the results page when you search ‘ReAmped Energy’ just to avoid these sites appearing first. Kinda crazy, isn’t it?

If you then check your Facebook or other social media channels, you might find the same websites, or others, appearing in your feed. That’s because there’s a whole bunch of these types of websites that partner with the energy retailers to try to sign-up new customers, and using online tools to target specific people is their main way of doing this. These sites could get paid if a user simply clicks through to the retailer’s site, or they switch to one of its plans, depending on the commercial model the two parties have agreed. Either way, consumers are often presented with energy deals that are not as great as they appear, from a panel of providers that could be less than half of those in the market. Some of them only compare seven or eight brands, and in some cases it’s not even clear how many they have on their panels.

In the worst cases, these sites can be downright misleading. We recently had to call out one of these companies for using our brand name in Google ads, claiming users could compare ReAmped Energy prices by clicking through. But our prices were not on the site because we don’t partner with them… Unscrupulous behaviour they couldn’t justify so took down the ads.

We think it’s important that people understand what’s going on with these comparison sites, and why – in most cases – we want nothing to do with them. But it’s a bit of a dilemma for us, given so many people visit these sites and therefore don’t get to see our offers.

Before we go any further, it’s important to make a distinction between the government-run energy comparison websites and the many commercial ones. As an energy retailer, we are obligated to submit our energy plans and pricing to the government websites so consumers can see every public offer that may be available to them. The government websites are not perfect, but they exist to ensure a certain level of transparency and accountability from the retailers, and rightly so. The commercial sites, on the other hand, are not required to display every provider or plan, which means they’re free to pick and choose who they partner with, usually determined by the commercial viability of working with certain retailers or not.

You might have heard the term ‘pay to play’ before? That’s exactly what we’re talking about. Now, we’re all about being upfront and truthful, so let’s declare that we do ‘pay to play’ with some of these comparison websites – but only the reputable ones we think do an OK job of helping consumers find a better energy deal. And even then, we’re reluctant to do it. Frankly, as a small energy retailer, we almost have no choice but to maintain a presence on some of these sites because they’re so prominent in our industry, largely because of how much they spend getting seen on Google, social media, or traditional marketing. Those we do work with are not perfect by any stretch, but others are far worse. We generally have more time for the better-known comparison sites – even if they sometimes have dubious ‘methodologies’ for the order in which they list plans – because they also show an interest in giving consumers some genuinely helpful information about energy in general. But we have our doubts about any website that refuses to show users a price comparison without giving over their phone number and email.

So why don’t we get involved with more comparison websites? Well, to be honest, some of them simply don’t have the best interests of consumers at heart – so it’s a matter of principle as much as anything. But even if we were happy enough to work with others, the truth is that our business model puts us at a distinct disadvantage compared to many of our competitors in this murky old world. That’s because we’re all about keeping our prices low, which simply means we don’t have the cash to throw at these companies to ensure we are made visible. Remember, it’s all about ‘paying to play’ and the more cash you have, the more prominent you’re likely to be on these sites, largely because some retailers will pay a big price for their ‘sponsored listing’ placements. One site has an auction system whereby the highest bidders literally get the prime real estate.

And take what some of these sites say about the importance of features and value-add incentives with a bucket of salt. They talk about these to justify their refusal to simply list plans in order of price as standard. Most customers would tell you the price they pay is the most important consideration, but some people will try to convince you otherwise.

Some of these sites have no interest in little old ReAmped Energy. They’re happy with their panels of partners who pay the big bucks and are not concerned about showing consumers all the options available to them. They won’t show our pricing unless we agree to play with them and pay what they want, should they invite us to take part in the first place. Compare this to the government sites where you will often find us top of the tables with the cheapest deals because all offers are shown.

The result is that, not only are most commercial sites failing to show you all energy providers in market – in many cases you’ll be lucky to see half of those available to you – but some are favouring the retailers with the deepest pockets. So, the plans you see first and foremost are unlikely to be the cheapest deals you could find by going to the government site instead.

Here are the commercial sites we work with:

  • Canstar
  • Finder
  • WATTever

Here are the sites we don’t currently work with (there are always new ones popping up so it’s hard to keep track):

  • Electricity Comparison
  • Australian Utilities
  • Electricity Brokers
  • Energy Scout
  • Cheap Bills
  • You Compare
  • Go Switch
  • Selectra
  • Billy Sumo
  • Just Compare
  • Energy Watch
  • Compare & Connect
  • Electricity Monster
  • Electricity Wizard
  • Compare Club
  • Make it Cheaper
  • Makes Cents
  • Econnex
  • Mozo
  • iSelect
  • Compare the Market

We wouldn’t rule out partnering with some of the above websites in future, but only if we can be sure that our products and prices will be represented accurately, in a fair and transparent comparison that is genuinely helpful to consumers.

The government sites we encourage you to use are Energy Made Easy (NSW, QLD, SA, ACT) and Victoria Energy Compare (VIC).

So what now? Well, the commercial comparison websites have various guidelines they need to follow to ensure they do not mislead consumers by representing that they compare more of the market than they actually do, so most clearly explain which providers they have deals with. But we think this should go further. In addition to listing the retailers they have on their panels, we would like to see these companies list the retailers they do not have commercial partnerships with, as well as provide links to the government websites to compare in-depth. We acknowledge that some consumers see a convenience in reviewing a small selection of offers, usually with the help of a sales agent, but we want to ensure everyone is made aware that this convenience could come at the expense of finding an even better deal.

So, in the interest of fairness and transparency, we are calling on all commercial energy comparison websites that do not currently show all residential electricity providers to do the right thing and draw attention to the retailers that consumers do not get to see on their sites due to having no commercial arrangement with them. A link to a page with a list of retailers and hyperlinks to the government websites should be present wherever a comparison site references the providers it partners with. We believe this would be fair on the retailers that are not invited or choose not to partner with these websites, while improving transparency and creating some much-needed context regarding the depth of the service being provided.

The next time you visit one of these comparison sites, ask yourself ‘Where’s ReAmped’. If you don’t see us, you’ll know why. So, visit the government sites, or come to us direct.