Grouping orders can cut costs for fuel – and more

31 December 2019
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Being part of an achat groupé (group purchase), where consumers join to make a bulk purchase, can result in lower fuel prices for electricity, gas, oil, wood and pellets – and cheaper back-to-school equipment.

Consumer magazine UFC-Que Choisir was the first to introduce the idea. It started in 2013 and it renews its Energie moins chère ensemble (Energy cheaper together) campaign for gas and electricity nearly every year. It estimates that participants save, on average, €155 a year.

The idea caught on and other internet sites began offering similar deals.

Official advice is to look carefully at the small print before signing up to groups where the negotiator is likely to be paid by suppliers to find new customers.
This is different from UFC-Que Choisir, whose interest is to attract readers and boost its reputation as a group fighting for consumer rights.

Frédérique Feriaud is managing director of the médiateur national de l’energie, the national public body that gives independent advice to consumers and intervenes when there are complaints. “For electricity and gas, you should check the contract carefully and make sure the low price is not for a fixed period of time, after which it will rise steeply,” she said.

Group prices may not always be cheapest and she encourages people to check the independent price comparison tool at energie-info.fr.

“It is free and easy to use. You put in your consumption details and requirements and get the prices and different types of contract available for you in your area,” she said.

Ms Feriaud said it is easy to switch provider.

When signing up with a new supplier, it is up to them to cancel your former contract. If the new one does not suit you, you are free to change. “It is much easier than changing car insurance or telephone company,” she said.

A group purchase may make more sense for oil, wood or pellets, when a group of consumers

take the initiative to get together and get a price reduction because they have saved the delivery company money on an expensive driver and petrol costs.
Fioulmarket.fr is the site run by Total heating oil for private homeowners.

Its group purchasing scheme, launched last May, has attracted 20% of its 130,000 clients and Christophe Doussoux, director of the site, hopes more will join in.

He said a group order of 5,000 litres will save each participant 2.5 cents per litre, so €25 for each 1,000 litres.

“There must be at least two people who live in the same commune with a minimum order each of 1,000 litres. They choose an organiser, who sends details of each participant, plus their email, and they will receive an offer from us,” said Mr Doussoux.

“It may take time to get enough people needing a delivery at the same time but the more people and the bigger the delivery, the greater the discount we can offer.”

However, the advice is always the same: look carefully at the details. Doing so could lead to lower bills for energy costs, which UFC-Que Choisir estimates make up 8.5% of a household’s annual budget, equivalent to about €2,900.

Group purchases are also organised for back-to-school equipment by parent associations FCPE and PEEP. For each participating school, the packs are negotiated to include the specific requirements of each individual teacher.

Parents are asked if they wish to participate so the associations know how many people they can include in their bulk order. This leads to cheaper prices and it also means you do not have to join the queues in the supermarkets.

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