Talking meerkats, animated wizards and models with impossibly shiny teeth – there are a wide range of price comparison websites available these days, and they are all desperate for us to use their tool.

Energy Made Easy (EME) has been around since 1 July 2012 and is, as the name suggests, easy to use; customers answer some simple questions, or enter usage information from a bill and EME generates a list of available plans with an estimated price.

Most importantly, EME is completely independent – it does not have any financial association with the companies whose deals appear in its search windows.

Benefits to consumers

Users can employ a variety of filters and other tools to tailor the to results their preferences. For example, EME functionality allows users to show price estimates for plans with a variety of discounts attached, or without the conditional discounts.

The whole process should take about 10-15 minutes and can save users significant sums; the difference between the most expensive and the cheapest offer for a four bedroom house in Brisbane in late 2017 was $800.

Simplifying confusing energy bills

There’s a bit of backstory behind the overhaul. When former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull brought the big energy retailers to Canberra in August 2017 to work out how to get retail electricity prices down for the average customer, the presentation and structure of hundreds of various deals and plans was a key priority.

Through our extensive engagement work, the AER knew that many customers were confused by the way retail electricity deals were structured.

Pay on time discounts appear to offer big savings, but are often only good value for people with a certain level of financial predictability in their lives.

Other arrangements based on the amount of electricity a household uses, and sometimes the time of use, will generate major variance in cost depending on the type of household that signs up for the deal.

And the spread of smart meters and other technology allowing people to manage their energy use means people can save significant sums – hundreds of dollars a year – on their electricity bills if they have the right deal.

To help with that, EME received a significant funding boost in December 2017 to redevelop the site to give users the most effective information possible when comparing various energy plans.

The Prime Minister’s summit also resulted in a review of the Retail Pricing Information Guideline (RPIG). The RPIG review created new requirements for retailers about how they provide and display plan information and how they market their energy plans.

This is done through the Basic Plan Information Document (BPID) and the Detailed Plan Information Document (DPID), which must accompany every energy plan on the market, replacing the Energy Price Fact Sheet.

The BPID shows the customer a summary of the key details of a plan – this summary is informed by what customers told us they wanted to see while we were doing our research. It lays out the estimated price, key plan features, plan name, type of contract and tariff, and all the discounts, fees and charges, and various incentives.

The DPID spells out in plain English the various other costs associated with the plan, or charged by that retailer, like late payment fees, payment processing fees and direct debit dishonour fees.

New and future changes to Energy Made Easy

In August, the AER launched an improved and redesigned version of EME to make it easier for customers to compare energy plans and reduce the complexity of the information when they search for the best plan for them.

This redesign employed behavioural insight experts and involves specialist web user experience consultants who developed and extensively tested different designs, language and layouts with the objective of simplifying the search process.

We’re currently in negotiations – and expect to formalise an appointment soon – with a supplier to tackle some more sophisticated functionality and enhancements to the site that will include an improved algorithm to manage the calculation of more complex offers and the capacity to include feed-in tariffs.

Other improvements could include bill reading or scanning capacity, and a smart meter data upload functionality that would enable customers to receive personalised estimates without the need to manually enter their data.

So next time a garrulous waist-coated meerkat or computer-generated wizard appears on your screen offering some fabulous discount or other, remember that behind the razzle dazzle lies a company keen to make a dollar at your expense – and that will do it all for free.

Learn how can help your business reach the clientele you need from Sarah Proudfoot who will give you tips on helping customers to motivate them to better participate in the market at the Competition & Customer Experience in Energy, taking place on 13-14th November 2018 at CQ Functions, Melbourne.

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