According to a Eurobarometer study published on 11 April on the occasion of the 2011 European Consumer Summit, less than 50% of EU consumers surveyed felt confident, knowledgeable and protected as consumers. Empowered consumers find it easy to identify the best offer, know their rights and seek redress when things go wrong. Vulnerable consumers find it hard to understand the choices they face, don't know their rights, suffer more problems and are unwilling to act when things go wrong. Detriment reported by consumers is estimated at around 0.4% of EU GDP with more than one fifth of EU consumers reporting a problem in the previous 12 months. Although most consumers do complain to retailers, most of those who do not get a satisfactory response take no further action. Significant numbers of consumers have problems making everyday calculations, understanding key information and in recognizing illegal sales practices or knowing their rights. A majority of respondents did not know their right to return, have repaired or replaced a faulty product.
The survey was carried out in 2010 in 29 countries (EU27, Iceland and Norway), with 56,471 consumers, using 70 questions covering 3 main dimensions of empowerment : consumer skills; consumer awareness of their rights; consumer assertiveness. The aim is to gain knowledge of consumer's capacities, awareness and assertiveness in order to better design and develop policies, at both EU and national level that take account of real behaviour.
Results show that consumer awareness and skills are worryingly low. However, there is a considerable potential to empower consumers and thereby to improve consumer welfare and reduce consumer detriment. The internet and the media have a key role to play in consumer empowerment with more than 38% of consumers using the internet to compare products and given the media's capacity to reach citizens directly.
Consumers' detriment and redress
More than one in five Europeans interviewed had encountered a problem for which they had cause for complaint. Consumer detriment is estimated at 0.4% of EU GDP The less educated and elderly are more reluctant to seek redress, although they are no less likely to have problems. The survey confirms the importance of access to good redress. Many of these problems could be solved if we had more alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms
In terms of numerical skills, consumers struggle with simple calculations: only 45% could answer three consumer related questions correctly. In terms of financial skills, two out of ten people interviewed were not able to choose the cheapest option when buying a flat screen TV. Only 58% could correctly read an ingredients label and 18% could not identify the best-before date. Only 2% of consumers recognised five common public information logos. 33% of consumers thought that the CE mark meant "made in Europe", and only 25% correctly knew it meant that the product 'complies with EU legislation'. Many could not name a consumer organisation in their country.
Consumers' knowledge of their rights
A majority of consumers were not aware of their fundamental rights such as the right to have a faulty product repaired, replaced or reimbursed 24 months after purchase, the right to cancel an online financial services contract within 14 days if they change their mind or find a better offer, or similarly, the right to cancel a contract with a doorstep salesman.