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Apple with apples: price comparison business NZ Compare on the rise as it brings new markets to the masses

It’s big business overseas, but comparison sites – and the affiliate-based business model that usually goes along with them – have been reasonably slow to catch on here. NZ Compare plans to change all that and, after starting off with broadband in 2014, plans to move into a host of new verticals.

With the potential to change the way we choose broadband plans, switch electricity companies and buy insurance, price comparison services make a lot of sense: instead of visiting every provider’s website – or, god forbid, picking up the phone to ring around – comparison sites let us sit back, relax and choose the best deal quickly and easily. The company we choose gets our business, the comparison site gets its commission and we find what we’re looking for without the fuss.

Globally, comparison services are booming, with the UK the proverbial canary in the coal mine for the last decade. Research carried out by the Competition and Markets Authority over there finds lots to love – namely making it quicker and easier to find the best deal on simple household services, and encouraging suppliers to compete harder to provide lower prices and greater choice to customers.

“Overall digital comparison tools (DCTs) should result in lower prices and better choices,” says that report, “particularly where we know from past work that people often do not shop around – such as in energy and financial services.”

So when is New Zealand going to catch on?

“It’s an idea that has never really taken off in New Zealand,” says Gavin Male, CEO and co-founder of NZ Compare, a suite of New Zealand comparison sites across personal finance, utilities and finance sectors which attract around 80,000 visitors a month, “but people are becoming more comfortable with researching and switching providers. Couple that with deregulated markets and more service providers and you have an excellent platform for competition and comparison.”

Gavin Male (left), CEO of NZ Compare with co-founder Alex Grace

The current New Zealand players vary by size and sector. Powerswitch and What’s My Number are the most established in the utility sector and receive backing from the Electricity Authority. Life Direct, owned by TradeMe has been comparing life Insurance for a number of years, Glimp offers broadband comparisons and, in a recent development, NZME has taken a majority shareholding in a comparison service called Ratebroker.  

Male says NZ Compare was born primarily out of the frustration he felt upon arriving in New Zealand in 2014.

“I landed with my young family and went about setting up my new life, but none of the tools and resources that I was used to in the UK where available. It was painful.”

“A successful business idea should always be about solving a problem and having had some experience in the UK with comparison sites and affiliate marketing I knew plenty about the processes and the idea began to take shape.”

Male built Broadband Compare, a basic WordPress blog, formed a partnership with internet provider MyRepublic and the site began to generate sales.

It was enough to confirm a consumer demand. The first website, Broadband Compare was launched in June 2016 and followed by Power, Mobile and Travel verticals. The company now has 16 employees and continues to expand into new verticals: Money Compare, the company's financial comparison website will be launching in the next few weeks.

There’s more to it however than just price comparison. Male says the company made the early decision to become an “asset rich” digital business, developing ad hoc projects alongside the core consumer product. Case in point, the company’s new insights offering, Broadband Pulse.  

“Broadband Pulse is a business information product that collates all the information in the NZ broadband sector as well as real user data around intent and decision making captured from users on the Broadband Compare website,” says Male.

“This has been a great success and already has major brands subscribed helping to shape the products that they are releasing into the market for New Zealand consumers.”

And those insights show that, for the consumer, it’s often about more than just rock bottom prices (The Wirecutter, which was bought by the New York Times last year, offers recommendations after in-depth testing and takes a cut of the purchases they inspire).

“You need to be sure you are comparing apples with apples,” says Male. “Our sites do not simply order products by price and our July Broadband Pulse report actually showed that over 20 percent of people switching plans and providers through Broadband Compare were moving to a more expensive broadband plan with better features for their needs.”

And there appears to be plenty of room for growth as the company continues to explore new verticals. AfterMoney Compare, it plans to launch Price Compare, covering all types of retail segments (this has existed in the local market for a while now with companies like PriceSpy and PriceMe). 

“We are talking to a number of potential partners around investment opportunities and ways that we can build and grow the NZ Compare brand,” says Male. “We’ll be building business information products for the energy and mobile sectors as well as developing our online market research panel, Opinion Compare, over the coming months.”  

After that it may explore overseas options.  

“We’ve developed the comparison platform to be sector agnostic so who knows what else, or where else, we might be comparing come the end of the decade.”

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