Consumer ProtectionEuropean Commission addresses consumer vulnerability

On February 23, the European Commission released a study entitled “Consumer Vulnerability across Key Markets in the European Uni”. The study aims to generate an evidence-based definition of consumer vulnerability and to explore potential remedies. It examines the obstacles faced by consumers when searching for optimal deals especially in online as well as in the finance and energy sectors. Based on a literature review, a consumer survey and behavioral experiments in five countries, the report holds the following insights:

  • Consumers are particularly vulnerable when they experience difficulties obtaining or assimilating information. This makes them less able to compare, access or choose suitable offers on the market. Under these conditions they are also more susceptible to certain marketing practices.
  • The degree of vulnerability depends on the specific environment and individual characteristics. For instance, older consumers above the age of 55 are more likely to experience problems comparing offers and switching providers compared to consumers aged between 35 and 44. However, the former are also less likely to experience being excluded from markets.
  • In behavioral experiments more than 50% of consumers did not compare deals in the energy and financial markets and 37% did not choose the best deal when presented with different options.
  • Presenting product offers in a simpler and clearer way, helps to significantly improve consumers' ability to pick the best deals.

These insights are relevant to European consumer and sector-specific policies, which seek to reduce consumer vulnerability by improving information from providers and to enable consumers to better engage in markets and assess deals. On the London Energy Forum Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, commented on the study as follows: "Today we still don't have a lot of reliable information on consumer vulnerability. It is this knowledge gap that separates us from an effective policy response. We need a single, EU-wide definition of consumer vulnerability. We need comparable indicators to quantify how many people actually face energy poverty. We can then target the right people

Source: European Commission

More InformationFactsheet and the study