Exclusive - Which? takes payments for promoting Best Buy products
Which?, the long-established consumer champion has admitted to Bitterwallet that it accepts pay-per-click advertising on its website, allowing companies to increase the visibility of their products above others.
While the reviews of the products themselves are not in question, the fact that Which? is profiting by promoting them to consumers is surely a concern for an organisation famous for the edict "no advertising, no bias, no hidden agenda".
Most product reviews on the Which website are hidden behind a pay-wall; Which? is famous for solely generating income through subscriptions to maintain editorial independence. However, there are several instances where users can access Best Buy information - those products and services that Which? recommends above all others. Plenty can be found within the Money section of the Which? reviews; in some sections (such as the car insurance section), the information is presented in a plain text grid:
Click on some and the associated URL re-directs straight to the company's website. However, others will re-direct you through an affiliate link, such as this link for Hastings Direct:
The same is true of Best Buy recommendations in other sections, such as the URL for American Express in Which's list of recommended cashback credit cards:
Furthermore, there are Best Buy recommendations where certain products have the company logo displayed beside them, such as the section on Personal Loans:
There is no doubt that those deals with a logo are far more prominent than those without. So why do some Best Buy recommendations display a logo while others don't? It seems Which? are showing bias towards particular products without explaining why.
Clicking on the "Go To Site" button of all the deals without a logo, and you'll be directed straight to the company website in question. But visit the site of all those companies with a logo displayed, and you'll be directed through a series of third party URLs that track your progress.
For example, the link for Alliance & Leicester initially forwards to:
Which then forwards to:
And is finally resolved as:
Alliance & Leicester are a client of Maxymiser.com - a company that specialises in conversion management - they ensure that a client's marketing campaign delivers the best possible results for their spend. The natural conclusion is that companies are paying Which? to display their logo, thereby increasing their product's visibility.
We couldn't find any literature on the Which? website that explains the nature of these URLs or why some products receive undue prominence, so we told the press office of our findings and asked for an explanation. A spokesperson told us:
"Which? includes links on its website to help consumers by making their online product search as easy as possible.
"Any company with their logo next to their name in these tables pays us a small admin fee each time a customer clicks on the corresponding "Go to site" link.
"These payments do not influence where a product appears in the table or whether the product will remain in our tables going forward. Our Best Buy tables are compiled by our independent researchers. The only way for companies to appear in these tables is to offer the very best products on the market that meet our stringent Best Buy criteria.
"As a not-for-profit organisation, all revenue raised from these tables is reinvested in our research and campaigning work on behalf of all UK consumers."
What Which? refers to as an "admin fee" everyone else will recognise as the very definition of pay-per-click advertising. Where a product is placed in the table, or whether it'll still be there in the coming months isn't the issue. While operating under the code of "no advertising, no bias, no hidden agenda", Which? is being paid to promote particular products without telling the consumer why they are doing it.