A shake-out in price comparison sites in the UK – and possibly in the US – looks imminent after Experian said it was reviewing its online price comparison shopping service PriceGrabber and has “lots of interest from private-equity and listed companies”. The statement came after reports suggested the credit checking company is looking to sell the business.
Experian has appointed American boutique advisory house Allen & Co to find buyers, less than three years after it paid $485m for PriceGrabber. Launched in 1999, PriceGrabber is based in Los Angeles and claims to have 26 million active customers per month. Experian’s wider interactive division recorded interim revenues of $376m and made an operating profit of $60m last year and has co-branded partnerships with AOL Shopping and CNET.
Dublin-based Experian wants to cut $80 million of costs annually and wants to expand into faster growing markets like Brazil where it has already bought a credit bureau. Last November it it was facing “exceptionally difficult” trading conditions in the US and UK. So it’s no surprise then that its LowerMyBills site, which allows people to compare home loans and other financial products, has been hit by the credit squeeze and is described by Experian as “depressed”. Perhaps that is for the chop too? It’s also hard to ascertain whether sites like Google’s Shopping engine has had any effect on the market.
For now though, PriceGrabber is not the only one ‘on the block’.
Yahoo has been looking to sell Kelkoo, which operates in 10 European countries, since October last year (here are some good reasons why). Elsewhere, Pricerunner, launched in Sweden in 1999 and bought by ValueClick for £16m, seems to be losing momentum as bigger players have won the traffic and marketing game. Six year old Confused.com, the online arm of car insurer Admiral, runs TV advertising on high rotation and has become one of the UK’s biggest insurance comparison services, mainly for cars. But so far the dominant player is Moneysupermartket, which specialises in financial services and in nine years has become the market leader. It floated on the stock exchange last year for £800m.