Online comparison shopping for home alarm systems

An editor takes a trip into the point-and-click world of bids and price comparison for alarm systems

Alarm dealers, listen up! If you think customers aren't shopping around before they call your company and ask for a quote, you need to wake up. I've been spending time these past two weeks testing and examining some online sites that are designed to help consumers compare alarm system prices and features, and I think the information I saw as a consumer is useful for you!

The alarm system comparison shopper's site

The first one I want to make you aware of is, which is a fairly new Atlanta-based website that is spreading across the United States, hitting the major markets. They list providers with a great deal of information on the features and options consumers can select for their alarm system. For example, you can compare a big national firm where you get $33.99 per month and just two door or window contacts against an independent firm like a small local dealer, where you can pay only $15.95 monthly and get 3 door or window contacts. What's really informative is that LocalPrice provides the total 3-year cost (most alarm contracts are set for 3 years), which adds in the installation cost (yes, they publish it!) and monthly monitoring charges to give consumers the real cost over that period. loads in quite a bit of information, letting customers know whether they need to have a landline, and whether you can get all sorts of other monitoring options besides "burg".'s Rob Shields tells me he's finding that alarm dealers really love the amount of information that's on the site, because they can get fairly detailed in comparing themselves to the competition. Of course, it doesn't offer any info on current specials, so consumers are comparing base prices, not the sales push of the month. The big national chains always seem to be running a "Free Installation" special in my neighborhood, and those specials are important to customers, but you won't find that info here, although LocalPrice's founder Rob Shields says he has a goal to add that information to the website in a few months.

One question any consumer might have when doing online shopping is whether there's any validity to the data that's listed for comparison purposes. We've all been to the websites where you find that great price on a consumer good, and when you go to check out, you find that it's not exactly the deal they pitched. I asked Shields about what checks and balances he has in place to ensure the comparison information isn't bogus, especially since the companies put the information in themselves. Here's what he said: "We do an editorial check. If something sounds too good to be true, we can e-mail the company and make them verify it. But the best form of verification is having their competitors look at them. We have the law on our side, since FTC regulates advertising and applies truth-in-advertising laws."

Additionally, Shields said that he plans to put in place a consumer-driven checks-and-balance tool in the form of reviews. "We are going to add reviews in a few months. So if they are misleading, that will be reflected in the customer's reviews [of the alarm dealer], such as if they list one price for monitoring but that actually requires a longer contract than they list to get that monthly price."

Listings on the site are free for alarm dealers, though eventually they plan to sell preferred placement even as they continue to offer free listings. (Speaking of free listings, get over to the buyer's guide and list yourself for free here as well. We are more focused on security products than alarm systems, but you can certainly add your company.)

The bids model as a lead generator: ServiceMagic and BuyerZone

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