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Brussels, 22 October 2010

Investments, real estate and internet access among lowest ranking consumer markets

"Investments, pensions and securities", "real estate services" and "internet service provision" are the three markets most likely to be failing consumers across the EU, according to the autumn 2010 Consumer Markets Scoreboard published today. Among goods markets, "second-hand cars", "clothing and footwear" and meat have scored lowest. At the other end of the spectrum, airlines show good results in spite of the disruptions of spring 2010 and consumers also appreciate cultural goods and services. The Scoreboard ranks consumer markets by looking at indicators such as comparability, consumer trust, consumer satisfaction, problems, complaints, the ease of switching providers, prices, etc. The purpose is to identify markets that appear most at risk of malfunctioning, for follow-up studies, which analyse problems in-depth and identify policy responses. For the first time, the Scoreboard ranks as many as 50 different markets – from food to domestic appliances to car repair – in all EU countries.

EU Commissioner in charge of Health and Consumer Policy John Dalli said: "The great promise of the Single Market is what it can deliver for consumers in terms of lower prices, greater choice, transparency and satisfaction. Thanks to the Scoreboard we can pinpoint the markets where this does not seem to be happening". To conclude: "Our next steps will be to study two markets, internet service provision and meat, more in-depth and to encourage national authorities to use the results in their work".

The Scoreboard

The Consumer Markets Scoreboard is based on a market monitoring survey measuring the reported experienced and opinions of consumers with recent purchasing experience in each market. For the first time in 2010, it provides data for 50 consumer markets, accounting for over 60% of the consumer household budget.

The purpose of the Scoreboard is to identify markets which may be underperforming for consumers. This provides crucial evidence for policy follow-up, and feeds into the Commission's broader work monitoring the functioning of the Single Market.

The main markets ranking is based on a total score made up of the following indicators:

  • Ease of comparing goods and services. The markets where consumers found it most difficult to compare offers were banking, telecoms, utilities (water, gas and electricity supply) real estate services and legal services (including accounting and notary services). Books, magazines and newspapers have the highest comparability.

  • Consumers' trust in retailers' compliance with consumer rules: the markets which are particularly distrusted by consumers are investments, pensions and securities, second-hand cars and real estate services.

  • Problems and complaints. The markets where consumers experienced most problems are internet access, railways, real estate services and investments, pensions and securities. Those with the highest number of complaints are mobile telephony, internet access, new cars and bank current accounts.

  • Overall satisfaction and expectations. In general, 57% of European consumers believe that markets deliver to the desired level. The highest levels of dissatisfaction exist for investments, pensions and securities, real estate services and railways. Cultural goods and services provide the highest satisfaction to EU consumers.

In addition, the Scoreboard also monitors:

  • Ease of switching service providers as well as actual switching behaviour. Switching is perceived as most difficult in electricity supply followed by investment banking, gas supply and bank loans.

  • Price divergence. Price is one of the main purchase criteria for consumers and major price divergences in the single market can be an indication of fragmentation. The Scoreboard shows marked price differences across the EU. The differences between prices of services are in general much larger than for goods, with the largest divergences found in bank current accounts and internet access services.

Losses incurred by European consumers, as a result of problems for which they had cause for complaint, are estimated at approximately 0.3% of EU's GDP. This money could be better used to purchase efficient and innovative goods and services thereby providing the EU's economy with a much needed boost.

Key findings

  • From the consumer perspective, three services markets consistently have the lowest scores regardless of whether the size of EU countries is taken into account or not. These are: "investments, pensions and securities", real estate services and internet service provision.

  • The three worst-performing goods markets are: second-hand cars, clothing and footwear, and meat (see MEMO/10/514 for details).

  • "Books, magazines and newspapers" as well as "cultural and entertainment services" are among the top rated markets.

  • Consumers place airlines in the upper half of the ranking, above all other transport services and especially during a very difficult time for the industry.

Next steps

The European Commission will launch two market studies to investigate in-depth the reasons behind the findings and to identify policy remedies. The markets concerned are:

  • Internet service provision, which is the third worst ranking market in general and the market where the highest percentage of consumers have experienced problems and where prices diverge widely across the EU. Internet access is essential for digital inclusion and the Digital Single Market.

  • Meat, is one of the goods markets with the lowest ranking. Meat is also a frequently purchased product which makes up a large part of consumers' budgets.

Full text of the Scoreboard:

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