The Strategy emphasises the importance of developing a more sophisticated understanding of consumers’ actual behaviour in the marketplace. Until now there has been a lack of consistent and harmonized data on consumer empowerment at EU or national level and therefore this survey provides an answer to a clear policy need.
A thorough understanding of the European consumers’ capacities, knowledge and assertiveness will help to design ‘smart’ policies to identify and empower consumers who are disadvantaged and to highlight vulnerabilities in the European population; it will help policymakers to draw a line between problems that consumers can be expected to tackle and problems which are beyond their capabilities.
European consumers’ subjective perception of their own levels of empowerment was measured in three ways: almost three quarters (73%) feel confident as consumers and somewhat less (63%) assess themselves as knowledgeable as consumers. Over half (55%) feel protected by consumer law.
Consumers’ basic financial skills were evaluated by presenting them with three consumer scenarios, each containing an arithmetic component, of varying degrees of complexity. The Maltese seem to have rather poor arithmetical skills as only 38% could answer the all three questions correctly. This was the 5th lowest in the EU. Almost two-thirds (63%) of the interviewees know the meaning of the Detrimental to Health if Product Not Used Properly Logo. However, only 27% of the Maltese were able to correctly identify it.
Interviewees with the highest awareness of EU consumer legislation are found most often in Germany (7%), Finland (each 4%), the Netherlands, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Denmark (each 3%); nevertheless, the very highest percentage is found in the non-EU country Norway (8%).
The top list of countries with highest awareness stays the same when involving also those with five or six correct answers, and with Sweden and Malta joining in: highest percentages of interviewees who give at least five correct answers to the seven questions, are found in Norway (56%), Germany (47%), Finland (42%), Denmark (38%), the Czech Republic (36%), the Netherlands (32%), Sweden (31%), Malta (29%), and Slovakia (28%).
More than 44% of the Europeans surveyed feel confident and knowledgeable as consumers and protected by consumer law. On the other hand, 17% neither feel confident, knowledgeable nor protected as consumers. Countries with lowest general consumer confidence, i.e. in all three manners, are Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. Countries where majorities do not feel knowledgeable or protected are Portugal, Spain and Latvia.
Countries with relative majorities feeling confident and knowledgeable, but not feeling protected by consumer law are Lithuania, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Hungary and Slovakia. Finally, in seven countries an absolute majority of respondents feel confident, knowledgeable and protected. All those countries are located in the North of Europe.
In general, interviewees from the North of the EU have the feeling that they are empowered consumers whereas in the South it is not always the case. A general pattern emerged with respect to socio-demographic characteristics involving education, occupation, financial situation and internet use: those who spent longer in education, are higher on the occupational scale, have no difficulties with paying bills, and internet users are more likely to feel confident and knowledgeable as consumers and to feel protected by consumer law.