The Consumer Conditions Scoreboard tracks, over time, consumer conditions across 28 EU countries as well as Iceland and Norway. This unique tool helps both the EU and the national stakeholders to design leading-edge policies for the benefit of consumers and traders. For the European Commission, the evidence of the Scoreboard are relied upon to make sure that our initiatives address real modern concerns.
A selection of the top findings from the latest edition of the Scoreboard can be found below. Click on the link at the end to access the full publication.
Knowledge of consumer rights and trust in institutional and market conditions are crucial to the development of efficient markets and the effective protection of consumer interests.
Yet, consumers’ and retailers’ awareness of some key consumer rights guaranteed by EU legislation remains limited. Only a third of consumers (33 %) know that they do not have to pay for or send back unsolicited products. Four in ten (41 %) know that they have the right to a free repair or replacement of defective goods. Slightly over half (56 %) are aware of the right to a “cooling-off” period in relation to distance purchases. In the EU as a whole, only 9 % of consumers could answer correctly all three of the questions put to them, with the youngest segment being the least knowledgeable.
Among retailers, low percentages of correct answers to questions on legal guarantees (33 %) and promoting a product while carrying insufficient stock (42 %) are particularly worrying.
to inform both consumers and traders about EU-wide consumer rights. In addition, ‘Consumer Classroom’ — an interactive community site for teachers — aims to promote and improve the quality of consumer education in secondary schools.
Asked about a range of unfair commercial practices experienced in the past 12 months, four in ten consumers report persistent sales calls or messages pressuring them to buy something (42 %), followed by false advertisements about limited-time offers (30 %) and receiving products as free even though they involve charges (26 %). Retailers are even more likely to report unfair business behaviour, perhaps indicating that they are better able to detect it.
As for other illicit commercial practices, at least one in ten consumers have come across unfair contract terms (15 %) or had to pay unanticipated extra charges (13 %) in the last 12 months.
Complaining and getting effective redress can reduce or even offset consumer detriment and thus help reinforce consumers’ confidence in the shopping environment. It is therefore important that consumers make use of the available remedies when they encounter problems and that their complaints are handled diligently.
Three quarters of those who experienced a problem (which they saw as a legitimate cause for complaint) took action to solve the problem. Out of those, the vast majority contacted the retailer or service provider directly (63 %), while 14 % complained to the manufacturer or, in fewer cases, took the matter to a public authority (6 %), an out-of-court dispute resolution body (5 %) or to court (2 %). The majority of consumers who did not take any action to resolve a problem were discouraged from complaining by the (perceived) difficulties, such as low likelihood of success, lack of information on whether and how to proceed, or the expected length of the complaint procedure.
ADR methods are acknowledged by all as the easy, fast and inexpensive way to solve problems. Consumers are the most likely to express satisfaction with how their complaints have been handled by ADR bodies (68 %), followed by retailers or service providers (61 %), manufacturers and public authorities (both 59 %), while courts record a lower level of satisfaction (45 %).
and ensure effective redress across the EU via the channels of both out-of-court and in-court dispute settlement. The new rules on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) will ensure that consumers can turn to quality ADR entities to settle their contractual disputes with traders, both domestically and cross-border.
As for the channels put in place specifically to facilitate the resolution of cross-border disputes, the European Consumer Centres — co-financed by the Commission — provide consumers with information on their rights and assist them in solving disputes with traders from other Member States.
In addition, the European Small Claims Procedure simplifies and speeds up cross-border litigation within the EU if claims are of low value, thus reducing the costs of such litigation for claimants.
E-commerce is an important part of the EU economy, and has been growing steadily in recent years. Half of Europeans bought goods or services over the Internet in 2014.
The overall value of business-to-consumer e-commerce is estimated at almost 2% of the EU’s GDP. Tangible goods and offline services account for the bulk of online spending (on average € 760 in the past year). The amounts spent on online services and digital content are much lower (€ 94 and € 107 respectively, among those who purchased these products), reflecting both the lower market penetration of these product categories and the fact that a considerable proportion of them is currently being provided for free.
E-commerce uptake remains very uneven across the EU, with below-average levels in all eastern and southern European countries. The rates of online shopping are also considerably lower among older, less educated and less affluent consumers, as well as those who are professionally inactive or unemployed.
Most EU retailers make online sales to domestic consumers (37%), with only 12% selling to consumers in other EU counties.
Likewise, the majority of consumers report buying online in their own country (44 %) rather than from other EU countries (15 %). Domestic online purchases are also made much more frequently, accounting for 70 % of the most recent online purchases. This could be explained a persistent gap in consumer confidence. While 61 % of consumers feel confident buying online in their own country, only 38 % are confident buying from online retailers in other EU countries.
At the same time, a recent in-depth analysis of survey results suggests that the incidence of cross-border online purchases within the EU is considerably under-reported, since consumers are not always aware that they are buying from another EU country. The fact that consumers often make cross-border purchases on the assumption that they are buying from their home country means that they are not fully aware of the applicable contractual terms.
Intra-EU cross-border purchases are more popular in some of the smaller countries with language and cultural links to larger markets (where the choice of products may be richer). In addition, the propensity for cross-border buying increases with international exposure (e.g. knowledge of foreign languages and travelling abroad).
to make the EU’s single market fit for the digital age – tearing down regulatory walls and moving from 28 national markets to a single one. This could contribute €415 billion per year to our economy and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. One action envisaged in the strategy is to harmonise consumer and contract rules to encourage more businesses to sell online across borders and give consumers more confidence.
Data protection, payment security and consumer rights are key concerns in domestic e-commerce. Concerns about cross-border e-commerce are linked to delivery, redress and consumer rights.
Slightly less than a third (31 %) of online consumers experienced at least one problem when making or trying to make an online purchase in the past 12 months. When comparing the origin of the latest problem with the origin of the latest purchase, cross-border purchases, both within and from outside the EU, account for a disproportionately high amount of problems (12 % and 6 % of purchases and 21 % and 13 % of problems respectively vs 70 % of purchases and 57 % of problems for domestic online purchases). Concerns about delivery and product conformity are supported by actual consumer experience. Problems linked to the country of residence (e.g. not being able to access a foreign seller’s website, foreign sellers refusing to sell abroad or charging higher prices than in their home country) are major barriers to cross-border e-commerce. In addition, many consumers are prevented from using the streaming services of their country while abroad.
A recent in-depth study by the Commission found that two thirds of comparison tool users (65 %) had experienced at least one problem when using such tools (e.g. unavailability of the product on the seller’s website or incorrect prices). Less than half of the comparison tools tested disclosed details of their relationship with suppliers or described their business model, and only a third provided information on how to file a complaint.
to ensure they provide transparent and reliable information to consumers.
Convenience in terms of time, lower prices and greater choice are the main reasons for shopping online.
Clothes and sports goods are the most common category of online purchases (and have seen a remarkable growth in recent years), followed by travel and holiday accommodation, household goods, tickets for events, and books/magazines/e-learning material. Purchases of digital content and the use of online services (whether paid or free) are becoming increasingly popular.
The two most often quoted reasons for buying from a particular website/appstore/app relate to price being the lowest (45 %) and having had earlier experience with the site (44 %). Eight out of ten (80 %) online shoppers used a laptop to make online purchases in the past year, followed by a desktop PC (73 %), a smartphone (59 %) and a tablet (52 %). The most commonly used payment methods in online transactions are credit/charge card (52 %), online payment systems, e.g. PayPal (47 %), bank/credit transfer (29 %), debit card (24 %) and cash on delivery (18 %).
Of those consumers whose last online purchase was a tangible product, the vast majority (83%) had it delivered to their home or work address, 8 % picked it up in person from a shop, 5 % picked it up from a collecting point/safe box in a public location and 4 % from the local post office.
Online shoppers use a variety of methods to research their purchases, with online sources of information (in particular online marketplaces) being most popular. Four in ten respondents who buy tangible goods online prefer sellers who also have a physical shop. The presence of a physical shop is more important for frequent online shoppers and those who engage in cross-border online purchases.
Time spent on online purchases decreases with age and financial situation. Consumers in northern European countries spend the least time on their online purchases while consumers from certain EU13 countries take the longest.