Brussels, 23 July 2013
Consumer Scoreboard: more action needed for a true single market for consumers
Protection of consumer rights still varies greatly between EU countries. Only 35% of Europeans are confident buying online from sellers in other EU countries and seven out of ten consumers do not know what do to when they receive products that they did not order.
These are among the results of the 2013 Consumer Conditions Scoreboard published today by the European Commission. The results show that a fresh impetus is needed to ensure that consumers can buy with equal confidence and ease across the EU, whether online or offline. One key finding is the decrease in consumer trust matched by an increase in the use of redress.
Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for Consumer Policy welcomed the Scoreboard and said "There has been progress notably in the spread of e-commerce but improvements are needed in other areas. The Scoreboard shows us where we should focus our efforts. It is our window on the market. Its outcome will be reflected in my future actions such as setting up the online-dispute resolution platform or better enforcing rules against unfair commercial practices."
The main findings of the scoreboard are:
E-commerce is growing, especially domestically
The share of consumers engaging in domestic e-commerce grew from 38% to 41% compared to an increase from 9.6% to 11% for cross-border purchases. Consumers, however, remain far less confident about buying online from sellers in other EU countries as opposed to domestically (35% versus 59%). Possible reasons include the impossibility of completing a purchase, e.g. because there is no delivery to the consumer's country or because foreign payment cards are not accepted by the online retailer. This is an important barrier to cross-border online shopping.
The Commission has been working to unleash the potential of e-commerce by creating a favourable consumer environment. The new legislation on Online Dispute Resolution will allow consumers shopping domestically and in other EU countries to resolve their disputes with traders more quickly and more cheaply, without going to court. The Consumer Rights Directive, which will apply in all Member States by June 2014, harmonises, among others, provisions relating to return policies in distance sales. The Commission is working with stakeholders to improve the quality of online comparison tools and facilitate cross-border comparisons to help consumers pick the best deals.
Consumer conditions differ considerably across the EU
The percentage of consumers who feel adequately protected by existing measures ranges from 18% to 76%. Overall, consumer conditions appear to be most favourable in Northern and Western Europe.
Most of the countries that joined the EU after 2004 have seen their consumer conditions improve over the last 3 scoreboard exercises. These improvements could be connected to EU information campaigns conducted in these countries. Such a campaign will be launched in Croatia in 2014.
There are important socio-demographic differences too
The elderly, low-educated respondents, persons not in employment, blue collar-workers, and consumers who do not have an internet connection at home appear to be among those benefiting least from their rights and the opportunities available.
Among the efforts to address this is the Commission's upcoming study on consumer vulnerability in key markets. This will aim to identify the determinants of vulnerability, including socio-demographic characteristics. It will also propose better research tools to study the mechanisms of vulnerability.
Illegal commercial practices persist
Based on the assessments of consumers and retailers, there has been no clear decrease in the level of illegal commercial practices in the past four years. Over 50% of consumers say that they are most likely to come across such practices on the Internet.
Building on the 2013 European Consumer Summit, the Commission is looking at how best to step up enforcement of consumer economic rights legislation. A public consultation on strengthening the efficiency of cooperation among national authorities will be launched in September 2013 as part of the review of the Regulation governing this cooperation.
Knowledge of consumer rights remains worryingly low
Seven out of ten consumers do not know what to do when they receive products that they did not order and less than a third of retailers were aware of the law on how long consumers have to return defective products to be repaired.
To address the deficit in consumer education of teenagers, the Commission has developed an interactive website for teachers - the Consumer Classroom. In addition, an EU-wide consumer rights campaign, targeting both consumers and businesses will be launched as part of the European Year of Citizens. The Commission will also undertake a study on guarantees in selected consumer markets to check if EU law is coherently implemented across the EU.
Green purchases on the rise
Four out of ten consumers say that the environmental impact of a good or service influenced their purchasing decisions. The reasons for not making green purchases include lack of relevant information, higher price and distrust in environmental claims.
The Commission is working with stakeholders to help consumers make informed green choices. It has supported the production of a report by stakeholders including specific recommendations on environmental claims.
The Scoreboard is a regular report that tracks the integration of the EU internal retail market from the consumer perspective and monitors the quality of the national consumer environment. The country reports annexed to this Scoreboard provide detailed consumer statistics for each country. The Scoreboard data is used by national authorities and consumer organisations in designing and evaluating their own activities.
Croatia is for the first time included in the Scoreboard, alongside the other 27 Member States as well as Iceland and Norway. Another innovation this year is the socio-demographic break-down of results, as requested by the European Parliament.
Homepage of Commissioner for Consumer Policy Neven Mimica
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