At a time when the government wants to reduce grants granted to consumer associations by nearly 40%, consumer associations seem to lose the support of the State, which has been given for the last six decades. What about the consumers themselves?
The mission of consumer associations is to inform their audiences and help them resolve daily life disputes, either out-of-court or through legal action. Since the coming into effect of class/collective actions, introduced by the law of 17 March 2014 (aka. Loi Hamon), consumer associations can even bring victims together to take legal action and defend their public interest.
Despite their many missions, do consumer associations such as UFC (Union Fédérale des Consommateurs; Federal Union of Consumers) or 60 Millions de Consommateurs (60 Million Consumers)—to name only the most well-known—still have the trust of consumers? Are they still legitimate in a context of growing suspicion with regard to the veracity of the carried out comparative studies and conveyed consumer information? These are the questions asked by Marie-Christine Lichtlé, Lydiane Nabec, Dominique Roux and Corinne Chevalier in an article published in Recherche et Applications en Marketing.
Trusting consumer associations? Yes, but not on any condition!
To answer these questions, the authors relied on two successive studies: a qualitative study carried out among 51 respondents, and a quantitative study with a sample of 315 individuals. The authors show that, in the case of the recognised consumer associations that they studied, consumers who have had a problem with a professional in the past (an industrial, a distributor or a service provider), are likely to put their trust in consumer associations if they:
- Respond effectively to the problems faced by consumers; this legitimacy is termed ‘pragmatic’;
- Have recorded their actions over time; this is called ‘cognitive legitimacy’;
- Have a mission with a societal value, therefore developing a so-called ‘moral legitimacy’.
Trust that depends on the respondent’s profile and their vulnerability to market players
Are we all inclined to trust consumer associations? The results show that trust intention in consumer associations is all the stronger as consumers feel vulnerable to market players (manufacturers, distributors, etc.). Paradoxically, however, the least vulnerable people show the greatest trust in consumer associations when they consider them to be effective, well-known and easy to contact. They will value even more the pragmatic legitimacy of consumer associations in building the credit which is granted to them.
In conclusion, is the State right to reduce the grants given to consumer associations? Considering the results of the studies conducted by the authors, I would like to warn the government against the dangers inherent in an all-out decrease in grants. It is more than ever necessary to think of a policy that is flexible depending on the pragmatic, moral and cognitive legitimacies of consumer associations, because they remain essential and unavoidable for all consumers, especially for the most vulnerable among us!
Let’s gather around legitimate consumer associations to soften the state policy!