Choice takes over price monitoring site

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 4th December 2008

Choice, Australia’s largest consumer group, has officially been announced to take over control of the oft-criticised GROCERYchoice website, according to ABC Online.

The change will enable more weekly supermarket specials to be shown on the website, as Choice is not as restricted as competition regulator, the ACCC – the current operator of the site.

The site launched in August after the ACCC approved its introduction following the Grocery Price Inquiry, but interest has waned – with hit numbers per month falling from 3 million to around 100,000 in October. It has been criticised as being too slow in producing relevant information and too general, as well as a focussing too heavily on the major supermarket operators.

The Federal Government’s deputy Senate leader, Stephen Conroy, believes Choice will be provide shoppers with greater variety and more useful information.

supermarket shopping

“The ACCC as the regulator, was always limited in its ability to provide additional information such as weekly specials,” he said, according to the ABC.

“Government’s decision to proceed with Choice was based on the view that Choice brought a unique expertise not available elsewhere,” he added. “They have a vision for GROCERYchoice and providing the kind of information to consumers that was beyond the capacity of the regulator the ACCC.”

Choice said last week that they were close to a deal and excited about the changes they could introduce. “It already has the choice name, now all it needs is Choice’s expertise to deliver relevant and useful consumer information – which is why we’ve proposed to the Federal Government Choice take over and redesign the GROCERYchoice website,” the consumer group reported in a statement last week. “We know that different consumers want different features from the site and we hope to meet those needs as well as provide better price comparison data.”

There have been fears that, by taking on the $13 million task, Choice’s independence may be compromised. Such worries were echoed by former Director of Choice, Robin Brown, who resigned when a deal appeared likely to be struck. “My view is that this was such a momentous decision for Choice, quite unprecedented in its 50-year history; a large amount of government money and a matter that was clearly quite political. I thought that there was a significant risk to Choice’s reputation as an independent commentator on public policy, on the way markets work and so on; and a risk to its bipartisan approach to politics,” he told ABC radio last week.

“I just think there is a risk to it,” he added. “But I think the leadership of Choice is very aware of those risks and I think they will do everything that can be done to make it work effectively.”

Choice advised that the Board is acutely aware of the danger but believe their independence will not be compromised. “When we proposed to government that we take over the site, the Choice board and management were very conscious of Choice’s long tradition of independent and robust advice for consumers and advocacy on consumers’ behalf,” they stated. “If we do take over GROCERYchoice, the government will pay us on a purely fee-for-service basis, governed by a contract setting out the expectations of both sides. Our independence will not be compromised by this project and you’ll still see Choice robustly standing up for consumers’ interest to government and business, both behind the scenes and in the media.”

The change will not be immediate, with Choice to carry out research to try and ensure they can produce an improved site that would appeal to many more shoppers.

“If we get the go ahead this month, it will take us a period of time to research consumer needs and build a new web site,” the consumer advocate said last week.