OPINION

Galvanizing consumer rights

The recent survey on Greek consumer behavior by the market research firm ICAP confirmed what we already knew. The Greek public has yet to show signs of a full-grown consumer conscience, despite making remarkable strides in the past few years. The consumers’ movement is still in the near future, since no initiatives have had a strong enough market impact to slow down unscrupulous producers or importers. It is no coincidence that consumer groups have never launched a boycott campaign against any of the products available in the country, although there has occasionally been good reason to do so. The ICAP study showed that consumer behavior is principally shaped by television – either directly via commercials or indirectly via ordinary programs. Similarly, it found that word of mouth does not reflect private experience but rather a personal impression which is again based on television viewing. Moreover, the large majority of the public avoids getting information about products circulating in the market either from responsible organizations or producers themselves. Remarkably, consumers hold that the state does not do an adequate job of protecting their rights. The public has more trust in the European Union than in domestic agencies. That should be one of the reasons why they appear unwilling to lodge complaints against producers or vendors even in blatant cases. The only consolation is that the younger generations seem more informed and willing to stand up for their rights. Hence, there is need for a stronger and more organized response from consumers. This is not just about fighting inflation but also about improving product quality. Product controls by state watchdogs may intensify but they will never provide full protection. Greece needs a strong consumer movement that can deal with profiteering and, if necessary, mount boycott campaigns regarding overpriced goods. A consumer movement is also necessary to identify and take action against public safety risk. Experience shows that companies fear substantiated public complaints that undermine their image and position in the marketplace much more than they fear fines by state agencies.