The internet has fundamentally changed the way consumers shop and businesses advertise and sell their goods and services. It has created innovative ways of organising, accessing, sharing and evaluating information, for example on prices, technical product characteristics and quality reviews. Search engines, price and product comparison websites, online trust marks and consumer reviews are now widely used tools and are becoming embedded in consumer behaviour and business models. E-commerce can deliver considerable welfare gains since consumers have at least twice the choice when shopping online rather than offline.
Cloud computing in particular can offer more flexible services that are device or platform independent. It has been calculated that, if e-commerce in goods reaches 15 % of retail sales and all Single Market barriers are removed, the overall gain for consumers would be around EUR 204 billion (1.7 % of EU GDP).11
Rising consumption around the globe has increased pressure on the environment, including climate change, and created greater competition for resources.12 Increasingly, consumers are aware of the environmental impacts of their consumption patterns, and they should be encouraged and supported by private and public initiatives to adopt more sustainable consumption behaviour. Consumers should be empowered, assisted and encouraged to make sustainable and healthy choices which will lead to cost savings for themselves and for society as a whole. Consumers have the right to know the environmental impacts throughout the lifecycle of the products (goods and services) they intend to buy. Consumers should be supported in easily identifying the truly sustainable choice. Effective tools are needed to protect them against misleading and unfounded environmental and health claims.
Consumer demand for sustainable products can drive growth and competition, thereby increasing the availability and affordability of such products and rewarding businesses that provide quality goods and services with lower environmental footprints.
Social exclusion, vulnerable consumers and accessibility
Wherever the economic and sovereign debt crisis has struck, it has dented consumer confidence and, for some consumers, led to a very significant fall in income or purchasing power, thus increasing the risk of social exclusion and the risk that citizens are unable to afford essential goods and services.
These risks are heightened by the fact that our population is ageing, markets are becoming increasingly complex and some people may neither have the opportunity nor the ability to master the digital environment. The question of accessibility is key to reaping the benefits of digital change in the physical, digital and economic senses. The current context may also exacerbate the disadvantaged situation of vulnerable consumers, such as people with disabilities or with reduced mobility, who face difficulties in accessing and understanding information and in finding appropriate products and services on the market.
11 Commission Staff Working Paper ‘Bringing e-commerce benefits to consumers’, Annex 2 to the 2012 Ecommerce Communication.
12 Resource Efficiency Roadmap, COM(2011) 571.
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