Why do we need price comparison websites?
A free market should be an honest market. A free market which is dishonest is not ultimately free. The purpose of having a free market is to establish as far as possible prices that are fair, fair to the buyer and fair to the seller.
If you want to buy something, some fish or some baked beans or some roof tiles or cables, you visit the shops, and buy what you think is the best at the best price that you can get. You cannot do this so easily when you want to buy an extension to your home or hire a lawyer to issue a writ; in these cases you have to look at brochures and get recommendations and detailed quotations after your supplier has assessed what is involved.
You can also click onto the internet and see what is on offer there. It will often be the same suppliers with the same offerings at different prices. This in theory should be easier than a visit to the shops but practice and theory differs.
The greatest thing about the internet is that it makes information available to everyone who has it. If you want to know what the cost of goods or services are, almost anywhere in the world, you can with diligent research gain a good idea.
In fact there is so much information available on the internet that you need to filter it.
Unfortunately there is also plenty of disinformation out there.
In order to help you make a choice as to which goods or services are the cheapest some companies have started price comparison websites. These sites list the various prices that are on offer for goods and services but their listing is made complicated by (a) they have to compare different qualities and tariffs (b) sometimes it is just not possible to put a price for something until you have undertaken a survey or specific costing and (c) many sellers try to keep prices organised in a way so that comparison is hard (d) some comparison sites earn commission from the goods and services they recommend (e) some comparison sites add a fee to the price to pay for their comparison service and (f) some providers of goods and services now advertise that a particular deal is not available from the internet.
If you want to buy a mobile phone service in the UK you would have thought that getting the best value would be easy to find on the internet, as there are only five or so major suppliers. If it was easy to find out who was offering the best value then there would be only one major company operating in this field – the cheapest. It is the same with energy; there is a confusing maze of tariffs that any comparison site has to work hard to figure out and you have to put in information that you might not always want to give or even have.
It seems that some businesses really feel that comparison websites are disadvantaging their business and are taking steps to prevent people from using them. Ryanair is a case in point.
Ryanair will, it seems, cancel thousands of bookings that have been made through internet comparison sites. It seems that Ryanair’s small print allows them to do this, which in itself is an astonishing situation, because Ryanair want to make it (in their terms) illegal but in more accurate legal parlance a breach of contract for any of its customers to book through a comparison site.
I suppose that sums up organisations like Ryanair.
They make excuses that the activities of the comparison sites slows down the Ryanair web service (I have never found it slow) and that they do not have passenger contact details in case of cancellations, so really they are doing all this for the benefit of passengers. Sophistry.
All of these matters can be easily overcome, but Ryanair like all such organisations, aim towards being a monopoly and a web comparison site may show that sometimes they are not the best value.
Transparency and concern about passengers that do not have easy access to the internet or the ability to understand and use a computer ranks nowhere on Ryanair’s agenda.
I suppose that you could expect little else from a company that seems to believe that climate change is not exacerbated by airline emissions and that airlines should be allowed to fly without they or their passengers paying for the pollution that is caused; that bill can be picked up by those who do not fly.
We need web comparison sites. We probably need a comparison site to compare web comparison sites. Ryanair ought to understand that its small print flies in the face of what is fair and reasonable.