Vigilance required on comparison shopping website – reviews do not necessary reflect whole story

Consumers are increasingly searching various online comparison shopping sites for information to support their purchase decisions.  It is a good idea to search more than one comparison shopping site, as there are differences.

Comparison shopping sites are websites that, as their name suggests, compare products or services. The sites compare, for example, the prices of products and publish consumers’ appraisals of products and services.

Comparison shopping sites have a considerable impact on consumers’ purchase decisions, as a review by another consumer is usually regarded as more reliable than paid advertising. The various comparison shopping sites are very helpful for consumers, but it is sometimes wise to treat the information on them with caution.

Comparison shopping sites usually operate commercially and companies may have to pay the administrator in order to be included in comparisons. Charging a fee is not in itself prohibited but as a consequence, companies will not necessarily participate in the comparison. A product that is more affordable or which otherwise better meets the consumer’s needs may then be found from a company outside the comparison.

It is also a good idea to read the product information carefully. For example, a cheaper product may have a longer delivery time, which should be taken into account when making a purchase decision.

Are reviews genuine? 

Not all reviews published on comparison shopping sites are necessarily reliable. The authenticity of a review can be assessed, for example, by considering the following issues:

  • Does it seem as if the reviews of a product or service were written by the same person: are the reviews written in the same tone or does the same choice of words appear in a number of appraisals?
  • Does the review contain a lot of grammatical errors: could the review have been written using an online translation machine?

Although consumers should be vigilant, it is the companies who are ultimately responsibility for ensuring that the sites meet the requirements set by consumer legislation.

Many of the comparison shopping sites strive to ensure that bogus reviews are not published.  If a review looks fake or it seems as if genuine, proper reviews have been removed, the site administrator should be informed regarding these suspicions.  The information is useful also for the Consumer Ombudsman, as notifications by consumers are an important information source in supervisory activities. You can submit a notification to the Consumer Ombudsman on our website (in Finnish or Swedish).

It is also important to remember that reviews written by consumers are based on personal opinions.  A product or service that has pleased one consumer, may not necessarily be right for another.  For this reason, it is sensible to search more than one source for information to support a purchase decision.  Comparison shopping sites can also be compared against each other, as many sites have published their operating principles on their websites.

During 2015, various mediators such as comparison shopping sites will be highlighted in Finland and in other countries belonging to the ICPEN (International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network). The ICPEN was established in 1992, and has members in over 50 countries. The Consumer Ombudsman has been a member of the network since the beginning. The member states of the network remind consumers once a year about various marketing methods and scams and about options on how to protect themselves from these.