A full 20 per cent of European consumers are too befuddled to work out which is the cheaper flat screen TV when given a choice of two*, European Commission research has found.
The figures, released today, show that fewer than two-thirds of consumers could read an ingredients label, while 18 per cent of shoppers are flummoxed when asked to identify a best before date.
The research was released to coincide with the 2011 European Consumer Summit, and comes after years of European initiatives on consumer protection and standardisation.
The press bumf accompanying the research states that: "Empowered consumers find it easy to identify the best offer, know their rights and seek redress when things go wrong."
Yet the survey of 56,471 people across 29 countries, found that fewer than half of EU consumers felt "confident, knowledgeable and protected as consumers".
More than a fifth reported a problem in the previous 12 months, and the researchers calculated that "detriment reported by consumers" was worth around 0.4 per cent of EU GDP.
They reported that the "internet and the media have a key role to play in consumer empowerment, with more than 38 per cent of consumers using the internet to compare products and given the media's capacity to reach citizens directly."
This may or may not have something to do with the fact the highest proportions of confident consumers – between 95 per cent and 83 per cent – are in the Netherlands, Sweden, UK, Denmark, Finland, Ireland and Luxembourg. And Slovenia. The least confident are in Bulgaria (64 per cent), Greece (57 per cent) and Romania (47 per cent).
When it comes to buying durable goods, the most popular way to prepare for a purchase is to visit different shops (58 per cent) and speak with family and friends (31 per cent). By contrast, one-quarter of respondents use price-comparison websites.
Almost a quarter of respondents say they never read a contract when buying a service, such as a mobile phone or utility.
Shockingly, that's even fewer than the number of UK voters who actually turn out for Euro elections. ®
We know you'll want to know the details of that fiendishly difficult TV price test, so here it is:
"Respondents were next presented with a scenario where two shops were selling identical flat-screen TVs. They were told that in shop A, the price is €500 but a discount of 10% is offered. In shop B, the price is €400. Consumers were asked which TV would be cheaper."