The internet has become a key part of life for consumers. In the run-up to the holiday season, many of us book an online supermarket delivery slot, put gift choices on an online wishlist, stream Christmas films and music, or use an online calendar to manage family visits. Digital services add value in consumers’ lives, during the holidays and beyond.
Marco Anelli is Group Service Manager, Statistical Surveys at Euroconsumers
At Euroconsumers, which brings together five national consumer organisations and gives voice to a total of more than 1.5 million people, we wanted to understand just how much digital services empower consumers.
We partnered with Google to establish the Consumer Empowerment Project, which aims to empower consumers through dialogue, helping them to understand their rights so that they can make more informed decisions. One of our key initiatives is the Consumer Digital Empowerment Index, which quantifies and provides insight into how digital tools empower consumers.
The study occurred in two stages. First, we consulted 21 experts specialised in areas from consumer protection to digital economy and sustainability. We used the Delphi research method, where a structured discussion process enables a group to reach consensus. The experts identified 10 key consumption areas, and the four most empowering digital services for each, resulting in a list of 40 digital services.
The experts also defined the weight to be given to each consumption area and digital service for the calculation of the Index, as well the impact of each service on sustainability.
We then conducted an online survey of almost 19,000 internet users, aged 18-74, across 10 European countries. We asked respondents if they use each service and to rate them based on how useful, usable, and preferable they were to the offline alternative.
The report flagged both leading and lagging areas in the digital landscape. You’re probably reading this article on a screen, rather than on paper, which isn’t surprising. We found that half of respondents use at least 20 digital services of the 40 studied, and that 3 out of 4 believe that consumer experiences will be mostly digital in 10 years time. The large majority of people using any of the 40 studied services find them useful, easy to use, and a preferable alternative to the offline option.
The study also revealed that staying in touch is crucial. Using messaging tools or email to communicate is the most empowering service in the study, with a score of 84.2/100. The top five most empowering services also included using social media and video calling. As a result, the Community & Communication consumption area was the most empowering for consumers, scoring 72.3 out of 100.
The study also showed that there is room for improvement in some key consumption areas. The three lowest scoring areas are Mobility & Tourism, Education & Training, and Home & Domestic Energy. More can be done to empower consumers in these areas, and we believe impactful change starts with increasing awareness and building dialogue on what can be done to address gaps of empowerment.
Sometimes the reason for consumers not using a digital service is simply because they do not know it exists. This lack of awareness is an issue for some critical tools like deploying digital trackers to monitor home energy consumption (28% of people who don’t use them indicated it as the main reason) and using fact-checking services to verify the validity of information (26% of non-users).
Then there’s a question of trust in the provider. Some consumers avoid using services because of this. One area where this was particularly true, was the Money & Investment area. The open banking (12%), managing bank accounts online (11%). Another service where this also happens, is social media (11%). Service providers should think about how they can improve users’ digital experiences, to build up their trust.
The survey results also showed that the digital divide is present when it comes to consumer empowerment. Age is a factor, as are education level and income. Overall, individuals from the Millennial and Gen Z generations with higher education levels and income are almost twice as empowered as baby boomers with lower levels of education and income. On top of that, in some consumption areas, the problem intensifies for people who live alone. And only half of those surveyed install and periodically update antivirus software on their personal computer, signifying that there is room for more digital education to take place.
According to the experts we consulted, the digitalisation of services also has an overall positive impact on sustainability. It enables better access, reduces use of raw materials, and lowers transport emissions, among other impacts. However, concerns remain about energy use and increased consumption overall.
One way that online platforms can actively decrease consumption is to work to increase the number of people who rent or borrow things online that they would otherwise have bought. We asked about these services, and they were found to be the second least empowering service of the whole study.
Overall, experts participating in the study are optimistic that with the mix of general awareness, innovative technologies and public policy, digitalisation can help create a more sustainable future.
The Consumer Digital Empowerment Index shows that most people using digital services find them valuable. These preliminary findings show which areas are doing well – and where there’s room for improvement to make digital services empowering for consumers. We are planning to dive further into the data and continue our research to inform the consumer policy debate. And we’d love it if you joined the conversation, as well.