Earlier this year, we released a rebuilt version of the Consumer Focus Energy Price Comparison service (EPC). The EPC was inherited from Energywatch – a predecessor to Consumer Focus and provides an idea of the cheapest energy costs for each supplier based on a number of factors. These include usage type (high, medium or low usage), energy type (gas only, electricity only or both), tariff type (standard tariffs, online tariffs, green tariffs etc.), payment type (direct debit, cash/cheque or prepayment) and location. As well as looking at prices, users could download a PDF ‘summary’ of all of this information and sign up to receive monthly notices of cheapest prices.
Last year, Consumer Focus appointed a new supplier of the data required to run the service, which necessitated a complete rebuild of the system. Due to limited time and resources, we opted to undertake the rebuild in two phases:
- Build new back end and database with basic front end
- Build new front end
In January we launched the first phase of the project. From a visitor perspective, they would have noticed very few changes – we essentially copied the existing interface design and hooked it up to the new database. The biggest change was behind the scenes – we pretty much started from a blank sheet of paper.
Previously we received new data every week or so with updated prices, now the new supplier (Energylinx) provide us with an XML feed every time a price change occurs – this ensures we have much more accurate data. We also changed platforms – moving from Windows/ASP.Net to Linux/PHP.
A few weeks ago, we completed the second phase and launched a brand new front end to the site. Previously the EPC was stuck in an iframe on the Consumer Focus website, now it carries the full template and appears as if it is part of the website.
We’ve included various improvements such as bookmarkable URLs for price searches (previously you would have to fill out the search form every time you wanted to check prices), clearer highlighting of cheapest prices, and details of when the prices were last updated.
We’ve reintroduced the PDF Fact Sheets and improved the monthly emails which are sent out. We’ve also borrowed some of the elements of the StayPrivate.org “account” system, to improve the way users can sign up for the monthly alerts and manage their settings.
As always, we’re not done and will continue to make improvements over the next few months. If you have any suggestions or feedback let us know.