I first encountered the concept of online price comparison many years ago with a book comparison site called Bookbrain. At the time, I wrote in PC Week magazine that I thought this would be the killer app for the internet. It was such a simple but excellent idea. Something like a book is a commodity. It doesn’t matter where you buy it from, you just want the cheapest price. Here was a way to find that price instantly, click a few buttons and buy the book.
As it turned out, book comparison hasn’t been the success I expected it to be, I suspect because most people stick with a single trusted supplier that they know will give them a good deal. By doing this it’s easy for them to buy again once they’ve set up an account. But the obvious area now where there’s a lot to be gained from comparison is sites where you can compare car insurance.
I recently needed to get car insurance for a 17 year old – a scary proposition when you consider the size of some insurance quotes – and went to a comparison site, while a friend called in at the local broker. I’m sure she got excellent service, but the fact remains she was charged nearly three times as much for a comparable policy.
In the early days, when they were first set up, insurance comparison sites were frankly dubious. When I first tried one a number of years ago I vowed never to use one again, because I was bombarded with a flood of unwanted phone calls and emails. However, with so much cash at stake on a teen policy, I risked going for a comparison site again. Perhaps this time I was more careful about checking a ‘don’t pass on my details’ box, but that flood of calls doesn’t seem to happen any more. I don’t think I’d go so far now as to say that price comparison was the killer app for the internet, but to buy car insurance without at least checking the prices on such a site is… short sighted.