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Fuel price data can benefit motorists and retailers

Speaking at the Asia Pacific Fuel Industry Forum today, ACCC Chairman Rod Sims outlined how fuel price data from websites and apps empower price-sensitive consumers. The industry can then attract these consumers through discounts to increase their sales.

Since 2016 fuel price data has been readily available to motorists from an increasing number of websites and apps. These include the NSW FuelCheck scheme, the GasBuddy app, the NRMA app and the 7-Eleven app. This information assists consumers find the best time to buy at sites with the lowest prices.

“Many consumers appear convinced that petrol prices are a rip off. The wild fluctuations in prices that occur in the larger cities as a result of the petrol price cycles only reinforce this view. Consumers can see that international petrol prices have not risen but fuel prices have. These perceptions have been around for many years and remain today,” Mr Sims said.

“This is why the current focus of the ACCC is to highlight to consumers the ability of technology to help them find where the cheapest petrol prices are, to encourage them to buy where petrol is cheapest, and to reward retailers which have the lowest prices.

“This takes us from a long-standing arrangement whereby only the major retailers had access to comprehensive information about petrol prices, to consumers now being empowered to make purchasing decisions through a range of fuel price apps and websites. We believe this will, in turn, help drive more competitive markets in petrol retailing.”

The ACCC has had a role in petrol ever since its establishment in 1995. Recent activity includes detailed market studies covering Darwin, Launceston, Armidale and Cairns. The ACCC is now reviewing lessons learned from these studies to see how they might be applied in other areas.

In August 2014 the ACCC took action against Informed Sources, a subscriber service which allowed major petrol retailers to exchange fuel price data across all their sites on a near real-time basis. In response, this data became available to everyone through the MotorMouth website and app – including consumers – meaning it was easier for consumers to chase lower petrol prices.

“We alleged that by facilitating the exchange of price information, the Informed Sources service enabled petrol retailers to communicate with each other about their prices. By doing so, the Informed Sources service had the effect or likely effect of substantially lessening competition.

“The undertaking we achieved in the Informed Sources case was important because since May 2016, retail price data has been available to consumers, including through a mobile phone app.

“The information also encourages price discounters by bringing their lower prices to the attention of consumers. Since we reached the undertaking with Informed Sources and the major retailers in December 2015, fuel price apps and websites have become a fast-growing segment of the fuel market.

“We think this information is especially important today when there appears to be increasing confusion about fuel prices due to the changing nature of the price cycle over recent years,” Mr Sims said.

A copy of Mr Sims’ speech to APFI is available at https://www.accc.gov.au/speech/fuel-price-transparency-and-retail-industry-competition.

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