The Federal Court has taken Trivago to task over its hotel price comparisons, finding that its results rankings and claimed price savings were misleading. Penalties are still to come, and there is word about that Trivago has launched an appeal. Whatever happens next, the case should ring alarm bells for any website that holds itself out as an objective comparison website or offers to help customers 'find the best price'.
Trivago's platform allows consumers to search across a range of hotel booking sites (like Expedia, Hotels.com and Booking.com) and other hotel websites to find accommodation. It lists competing offers for each hotel, with one result displayed prominently above a list of other offers. The prominent top position conveyed that it was the cheapest or best offer. In fact, that place went to the booking site which paid Trivago the most. In over 65% of listings, that top spot was not the lowest price. It's not surprising that the court found this was misleading.
Pricing was also a problem. Trivago displayed strike through prices, or prices in different colours, to compare the price for a standard room with a luxury room in the same hotel. This made customers think that they were getting an amazing discount when they were not.
Trivago isn't the only one that's been called out on this. In April 2019, the ACCC took iSelect to Court for misleading representations in its energy plan comparison services. The issue then was that iSelect didn't compare all available plans (despite saying on the website that customers would benefit from them comparing plans from all partner retailers). Instead, iSelect limited the number of plans it compared based on the commercial arrangement it had with retailers. They unfortunately didn't disclose this to customers.
Online comparison sites can be great – at their best, they help consumers save time and easily compare products. But bottom line is that you need to do what you say you will. So if you say that you will provide an objective comparison, that's exactly what you need to do. And if the comparison is limited somehow, you need to say that too.
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