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Wednesday, 25 February 2009

EC's Consumer Markets Scoreboard

Meglena Kuneva, the EC's Commissioner for Consumer Affairs, appears to be trying hard to compile meaningful data on "how markets ultimately perform and deliver to citizens".

The Consumer Markets Scoreboard - only in its second edition - provides data on prices, complaints, degree of satisfaction, switching rates and safety. However, it finds that "more quality data are needed to develop a solid consumer evidence base... The current evidence... is still not enough to draw definite conclusions."

Nevertheless, the report makes a series of "observations", including:
  • "consumers are less satisfied and experience more problems with services than with goods markets. The most problematic surveyed sectors are energy, transport (bus and rail) and banking services."

  • "in the banking sector switching is low and offers difficult to compare. The substantial variation in bank fees between Member States is not explained by differences in expenditure levels". In the first half of 2009, the EC will "assess the problems consumers face resulting from a lack of transparency in retail financial services."

  • higher switching rates (e.g. in the market for car insurance) means "consumers are less likely to report price increases". Though I'd observe that the number of TV ads for the plethora of price comparison web sites focused on car insurance suggests there is still plenty of fat in that market - 25% of consumers reportedly switch, but prices are reported as steady.

  • "Cross-border retail trade is stalling. The proportion of consumers shopping cross-border has not increased since 2006, while the proportion of retailers selling across borders has declined. Nevertheless, while 25% of consumers have shopped cross-border in the last 12 months, 33% are considering doing so in the next year. If harmonised consumer regulations were put in place across the EU, 49% of retailers would be interested in selling cross-border. This would be a significant improvement compared with the 20% that currently sell cross-border. Online shopping is becoming more widespread but cross-border e-commerce is not developing as fast as domestic online shopping."

  • "While complaints data are important to detect malfunctioning, the absence of complaints does not always mean that there are no problems... in some markets consumers have a low tendency to complain even though they experience problems, for example, in bus and rail and some food markets such as fruit and vegetables." Source: IPSOS consumer satisfaction surveys 2006 and 2008.
The report cites the following "Action points for 2009:
• A market study on the retail electricity market.

• A chapter on online geographical market segmentation in the retail market study which will analyse the problems consumers have when shopping online across borders.

• A communication on enforcement which will set out a global strategy to ensure the effective enforcement of the consumer acquis.

• Development of a regular collection of average prices of comparable consumer products and services by Eurostat and the national statistical offices.

• Development of a voluntary harmonised methodology to classify consumer complaints.

• Work to develop appropriate indicators to measure enforcement and empowerment with national stakeholders."
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