Choice to take over GROCERYchoice?

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 25th November 2008

The Federal Government is contemplating handing control of the oft-criticised GROCERYchoice website to consumer advocates Choice for a reported $13 million.

Despite strong interest upon launch the number of hits on the site has waned from 3 million a month to just 104,000 causing criticism of the taxpayer funded site to escalate.

Assistant Treasurer Chris Bowen has claimed that handing the reins to Choice would enable specials to be published on the website and create synergies.

“We said on the day that we launched the GroceryChoice website that we’d love to see more information put on it over time. We’ve been working away at that. Choice has a lot of expertise in the field and there are constraints on how much information the ACCC as the regulator that can provide to consumers,” he told ABC radio. “So we do think there are synergies there, which we are working through and the indication from the public has been, that the more information we can give them the better – and that is what we have been working away to do.”

Mr Bowen was coy about changes to the site as discussions with Choice were still progressing. He did, however, note that they would not be as constrained in the publishing of information as the competition regulator. “The ACCC as the regulator has some constraints – you can’t as the regulator, put specials on your website etc because you’ll be, as the regulator you’re responsible for ensuring truth in advertising. If you are repeating advertising of retailers that is a something conflict of interest,” Mr Bowen noted. “If you can get a third party to do it and in such a way that it doesn’t provide a conflict of interest for a government instrumentality, that’s certainly worth exploring.”

The Federal Opposition is not against handing the reins to Choice but believes that the site should still be dumped.

Tasmanian Liberal Senator Guy Barnett has labelled it a failure and plans to move for its abolition this week, while Luke Hartsuyker, Shadow Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs, suggested last week that GROCERYchoice be shut down. “GroceryChoice is widely regarded in industry circles as being nothing more than a basket case”, Mr Hartsuyker said. “The website would be just as useless if Mr Bowen poured four times the amount of money in to it. The idea that he can somehow make it more useful now is ludicrous.”