Exploratory Study of consumer issues in peer-to-peer platform markets

This study investigates five peer-to-peer (P2P) platform markets and identifies the main issues for peer consumers and peer providers from the perspective of consumer policy. Online P2P transactions via platforms present both benefits and challenges for consumers. Policy makers need better understanding of how consumer interests play out on platforms so they can promote a responsible development of these markets.
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European Commission study finds consumers report frequent problems with collaborative economy platforms

Today, the European Commission has published a study on five peer-to-peer platform markets, identifying the main issues for peer consumers and providers from the consumer perspective. While the study showed that most active users are satisfied with their experience, over half of consumers (55%) had at least one problem with peer platforms over the past year, mostly related to the poor quality of goods or services, or to the goods and services not being as described. Almost half of these consumers then said they did not take any action.

Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Vera Jourová said: I am happy to see that many consumers are reaping the benefits of these platforms, but we can't ignore that consumers are experiencing problems. If things go wrong, consumers are left in the dark about where to turn. Consumers should know what rights they have when signing up for these services. Consumers must be protected in the digital age."

About six in ten peer consumers (60%) did not know who is responsible when something goes wrong, what the responsibility of the platform is, or whether they have a right to compensation or reimbursement. At the same time, a large majority of peer consumers find it important or very important that peer to peer platforms are clear and transparent about who is responsible when something goes wrong.

The study

The study covers P2P online platforms for  a) (re) selling or buying of goods – like eBay; b) Sharing or renting of goods – like Peerby; c) Sharing or renting accommodation – like Airbnb; d) Sharing or hiring rides – like BlaBlacar or Uber; and e) Hiring people to do odd jobs – like Yoopies. With the exception of (Re) Sale of Goods platforms, these are part of what the European Commission has defined as the "collaborative economy"[1], or what is generally referred to as the "sharing economy".

Methodology

The study included an economic analysis of the main business models of platforms and an estimate of the expenditure and revenues of peers and platforms in the EU; a survey and focus groups in 10 EU countries (BG, DK, DE,ES, F, IT, NL, PL, SI, UK); case studies of 10 platforms (AirBnB,  BlaBlaCar , eBay EasyCarClub, Nimber, Peerby, Uber Pop/Pool, Wallapop, Wimdu, Yoopies); a legal analysis of relevant EU and national legislation;  and sets out policy options for addressing consumer issues in P2P platforms put forward by stakeholders.

The key findings include:

A very small group of 20 platforms [1] or 4 % of the 485 platforms screened in 28 EU countries + Norway, are very large [2]. Most of the platforms operating in the EU (81%) are small or medium-sized. in particular sharing/hiring rides or odd jobs platforms tend to be small [3].

- The business models of P2P platforms vary. Many of them, notably the larger ones, charge transaction fees for a variety of services they provide to peers. They actively manage or govern transactions between peers, monetise user data, and invest in market expansion. The high level of automation and the value of the data collected hold the promise of significant profitability for larger platforms benefitting from network effects.

- More than half of the revenue and expenditure on both collaborative and (re)sale of goods platforms is generated by 10% of peers. A substantial portion of peer providers in the accommodation sector report they rent out accommodation on a regular basis, 15.9% once a week and 20.6 % once a month.

- Peer consumers spend most money on renting accommodation and the least on the sharing/hiring rides. On accommodation, (re)sale and renting of goods, and odd jobs platforms peer providers report revenues that add up to 60 to 65% of the amounts consumers report they have spent. On sharing/hiring rides platforms 81% of expenditure appears to reach peer providers. The difference includes platform revenues and may also reflect underreporting.

- Most active users are either satisfied or very satisfied with their experience. But peer consumers also report frequent problems: 55% had at least one problem over the past year, mostly related to the poor quality of goods or services, or to the goods and services not being as described. Almost half of the peer consumers (46%) that had experienced a problem did not take any action, mostly because they felt it was not worth their time or effort and/or because the amount of money involved was too small. Current users may accept a higher level of risk and problems on P2P platforms as "part of the game", in exchange for the opportunity to save money, and because most transactions are relatively low value.

- On the larger platforms peers are likely to be confused or misled about who is responsible when something goes wrong: platform's practices may give the impression they assume at least partial responsibility in case of problems, but their Terms and Conditions exclude any liability. [4]

- The core trust building tools on P2P platforms, peer review and rating systems and identity verification practices, are neither fully reliable nor transparent. Only about 40% of peer consumers and peer providers use reviews regularly. Those peer consumers who do use reviews are more likely to consult reviews before the transaction than to write reviews afterwards. Among those who took action after experiencing a problem, remarkably few peer consumers (20.4%) left a low rating or bad review.

- Consumer rights apply to the service the platform offers to peers, but only civil law rules apply to rentals and sales on platforms between two private persons. These rules are mostly not tailored to P2P transactions online via platforms, and do not facilitate easy access to redress. Unclarity on certain platforms (AirBnB, Uber) about whether peer providers act as a private person or as a business creates confusion about whether consumer rights apply. Other platforms either exclude (BlaBlaCar, easyCarClub) or identify professional or business providers (eBay, Wimdu).

Factsheet: Key findings about problems consumers face in the collaborative economy (446 Kb)

How are these findings used?

These findings are feeding into the ongoing review of core EU consumer and marketing laws that wants to make the consumer acquis fit for the digital age, relevant enforcement activities and the monitoring of the development of the collaborative economy as announced in the Communication of June 2016.

The fieldwork for the study was conducted in 2016 by a consortium led by VVA Consulting, including Milieu Law and Policy Consulting and GfK under a service contract with the Consumers, Health, Agriculture and Food Executive Agency (Chafea)  of the European Commission, for DG Justice and Consumers.

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[1] see http://ec.europa.eu/DocsRoom/documents/16881/attachments/2/translations

[2] defined as over 100.000 daily unique visitors

[3] defined as less than 500 daily unique visitors

[4] About 60% of peer consumers say they do not know or are not sure who is responsible when something goes wrong, what the responsibility of the platform is or if they have a right to compensation or reimbursement. About 40% of peer providers say they do not know or are not sure about their rights and responsibilities, and about 30% think they know more or less.