So what issues do consumers think are the most important? In October 2012, the CFA Consumer Issues Survey asked consumers to rate the relative importance of common consumer problems
Broad concerns: Food, utilities and health care
The survey asked consumer to rate eight broad areas of consumer concern. All were rated as important or very important by a large majority of respondents (more than 80%). Food, affordability of utilities and health care were rated highest, with around 95% of consumers considering them to be very important or important.
The survey sought consumers views about individual issues within food, energy and communications and invited them to suggest ‘other’ issues of importance. Privacy and security online was the single most important current issue with 79% of consumers ranking it as ‘very important’. But when asked about emerging issues, health and energy prices were much more frequently nominated.
Misleading information about food (health claims, production methods) was second most likely to be rated as very important or important. Food labelling reform was also the second most popular current consumer campaign of five noted.
Of consumer campaigns current at the time of the survey, CHOICE’s ‘Take the Power’ back campaign was rated most important, followed by food labelling reform.
While the survey explored food, communications and energy in more detail than other areas, a number of cross-cutting themes emerged.
Transparency and truthfulness - consumers were concerned about truth and transparency particularly in relation to general purchases and service, food, affordability, telecommunications and green and ethical choices.
Price - affordability of utilities was of greatest concern, but food prices were frequently mentioned. ‘Affordability of consumer goods and services’ was the most highly ranked of nine potential topics for focus in future surveys.
Environment and ethical consumption – environmental and ethical concerns were ranked fourth among the eight main current consumer areas and third of nine areas for potential future surveys. Reducing environmental impacts in energy rated equally with price concerns, and environmental issues in telecommunications use also rated highly
Health - rated the second most important consumer issue for the next five years and the second most important rating for future surveys. Health concerns also underlie the high ranking of some of the food related issues.
The current survey sought additional information about consumers concerns in food, energy and communications. Consumers were asked which of nine issues they would like future surveys to address. The most popular choices were affordability of goods and services, health consumer rights, green and ethical consumption and banking, credit and insurance.
Results in detail
The full survey report is available for download.
The following looks at the more detailed results for the three broad areas where more detailed information was sought.
Food was the highest rated consumer issue overall. Labeling (origins of product, health claims), information and concerns with competition were the highest ranked issues.
75% of respondents identified misleading information about food production as a ‘very important’ issue.
74% of respondents identified misleading claims about health benefits of food as a ‘very important’ issue.
Out of 573 who answered the question on food 218 also provided ‘other’ issues of concern
- 70 wrote about their concerns with competition between Coles and Woolworths.
- 67 wrote about their concerns with all kinds of different labelling issues
- 33 wrote about ethical and environmental problems]
Each of the five individual food issues nominated in the survey (misleading claims about health benefits, simple and reliable nutrition labelling, unit pricing, misleading production information, lack of competition) were ranked important or very important by 92% or more of the respondents.
“Food labelling reform” had the second highest number of respondents overall for current consumer campaigns (20%).
Energy was the second highest rated consumer issue overall. Concerns include affordability, alternative and environmentally responsible use and transparency in the market.
67% of respondents identified stopping or slowing electricity price increases as ‘very important’.
66% of respondents identified reducing the environmental impact of energy use as ‘very important’.
Each of the responses (slowing price increases, helping consumers manage consumption, reliability, reducing environmental impact) was identified as ‘very important’ or ‘important’ by 93% of respondents or more.
Out of 572 who answered the question on energy 156 responded also identified ‘Other’ issues of concern
- 59 wrote extending their concerns about alternative and environmentally responsible energy
- 29 wrote about their concerns about price
- 26 wrote about their concerns with transparency of energy providers
Privacy and security online was rated as the single most important issue in communications but also in the survey as a whole with 79% of respondents rating it as ‘very important’.
No issue was particularly prominent in the ‘other’ category. Accessibility and fairness for all people, ease of comparison and reliability were some of the other issues mentioned.
About the survey
In October 2012 CFA invited consumers from across Australia to take a Consumer Issues Survey. There were 591 respondents to the survey. This summary of the full report looks at some of the key responses analysed.
Survey respondents were not a random sample and diverge from the Australian population in important ways, which are likely to have had some influence on the results.
- the survey was not random and in many ways does not represent Australians as a whole,
- respondents between the ages of 45-65 were disproportionately overrepresented and young people were greatly underrepresented,
- most of the respondents (57%) were alerted to the survey through a CHOICE promotion and this has likely contributed to the age demographic and support for particular campaigns and issues
- respondents are likely to be more engaged with consumer issues and consumer organisations than the average Australian.