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Consumer markets improving but services remain source of discontent
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Published on 30-06-14

There is an improved performance across all consumer markets according to the latest analysis of the EU consumer markets published today. This improvement is particularly marked for goods markets, while services continue to be the main sources of dissatisfaction. The UK goods markets as a whole perform better than the EU28, despite registering a slight decline on 2012's performance. However, the UK's services market as a whole remains below that of the EU28, with the markets for gas, real estate and postal services performing the worse.

    Consumer markets improving but services remain source of discontent

    The Consumer Markets Scoreboard tracks the performance of 52 consumer markets from second hand cars to holiday accommodation. The markets are ranked by consumers, in an EU-wide survey, based on four components: comparability of offers, trust in businesses, problems & complaints and satisfaction with businesses.

    "Consumers should be the master not the servant of the market," said Commissioner for Consumer Policy Neven Mimica, "The scoreboard shows market conditions are overall getting better for consumers, however much more needs to be done, especially on services and energy. I am working hard with my colleagues in the Commission to address these issues, be it through the payment accounts directive, the connected continent package or through facilitating the switching of suppliers."

    The key findings for the EU are:

    Market performance is improving. The overall assessment of market performance across all markets and all countries improved slightly between 2012 and 2013, continuing the general trend observed since 2010 (although there are differences from market to market and from country to country).

    Goods markets are working considerably better than services markets, although the gap has been slowly narrowing. Compared with 2012, some of the worst performing markets, such as vehicle fuels and train services, have improved the most.

    Banking services remain the most problematic sector, with the markets for investment products and mortgages at the bottom of the ranking and well below the average for the service sector. Ensuring that financial services are working to the benefit of consumers in the current economic climate is an essential component of EU consumer policy.

    Telecom markets score below average with scores well below the average for trust, choice of providers and overall consumer satisfaction, and have the highest incidence of problems and complaints of all market clusters. On the plus side the scores for comparability and ease of switching are above average and the switching rates are the highest for all the market clusters. In September 2013, the Commission adopted the 'Connected Continent' package aimed at eliminating roaming charges by 2016 and improving consumers' choice of telecom providers.

    Public utilities, in particular electricity and gas, are also rated as below average by consumers. Despite recent improvements, utilities markets continue to score poorly in comparability of offers, choice of providers, ease of switching and actual switching. The Commission is working with key stakeholders to increase the transparency of energy offers and bills, ensure customers' access to their consumption data and facilitate switching.

    Poor results for markets for second-hand cars and vehicle fuels continue to be marked with both well below average. An EU in-depth study into the market for vehicle fuels has just been finalised.

    UK consumer market performance

    Goods markets

    Overall, the top three goods markets in the UK are the books, magazines and newspapers; non-prescription medicines; and entertainment goods markets. The bottom three are the second-hand cars; meat and meat products; and new cars markets.

    The entertainment goods and non-prescription medicines markets are both rated as the second best performing across the EU28. The large household appliances, personal care products and maintenance products markets are assessed as the third best performing across the EU28.

    Services Markets

    The top three services markets in the UK are the personal care services, holiday accommodation and culture and entertainment markets. The bottom three are: real estate services; investment products, private pensions and securities; and electricity services markets.

    There has been an improvement in performance since 2012 in the UK markets for vehicle insurance, water supply, and tram, local bus and metro. These three markets are all rated more highly on the consumer trust component.

    The UK is performing worse than the EU28 average in the markets for gas services, real estate services and postal services. These three services markets all experience a higher than average proportion of problems and the gas services market also performs worse than average in terms of comparability, trust and expectations.

    See page 161 for complete UK performance analysis >

    What next?

    Following the findings of the scoreboard, the Commission services will launch two in-depth market studies: a market study on retail electricity and a behavioural study to enhance the reading and understanding, by consumers, of terms and conditions. 

    The study on retail electricity will draw comparisons with the findings of an earlier study (2010) into the market and examine the impact of the implementation of the Third Energy Package legislation. The second study will investigate (through behavioural testing) various conditions that could increase consumers' willingness to read, and their capacity to understand, contracts' terms and conditions.

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