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Against the clock: why more time isn't the answer for consumers

25 November 2016

'Against the clock' -  Full report [ 0.94 mb]

Time is a precious resource for consumers, but policymakers can be too quick to propose solutions that demand more of it, without thinking through what the implications will be.

More engagement in markets is often proposed as the solution to the fact that consumers experience considerable problems. This increased engagement will of course take up more of consumers’ time. We conducted research to find out what ‘good’ consumer engagement would look like, how much time it would take compared to decision-making that comes more naturally, and what impact it would have on consumers. To make our study manageable, we limited it to the pre-sale, decision-making process only. To make it realistic, we invited consumers to contribute to designing the 'good' engagement process we would eventually test (For more detail on the methodology we used, please read ‘Against the clock - Appendixes’ [ 420 kb]).

The findings of this research - detailed in our report ‘Against the clock: why more time is not the answer for consumers’ show that:

  • Following a 'good' decision-making process takes longer than following a natural process (an average of 107 vs 76 minutes per week). This difference is particularly stark in regulated markets

  • Following a 'good' decision-making process leaves consumers feeling less satisfied with their decision than when they decide naturally. Again, this is worse in regulated markets

  • In regulated markets, consumers are even less satisfied when they take the time to read terms and conditions, than if they don’t bother to do so.

Our research adds to the growing body of evidence showing that certain features of regulated markets in particular (e.g. complexity, level of enjoyment people derive from engaging) make them very difficult for consumers to engage with. The clear implication of our findings is that spending more time will not necessarily increase consumer satisfaction.

We hope that this report contributes to a continuing discussion about how to reform consumer markets to ensure they are designed around how people really behave and deliver what people actually want. We offer a 3 reflections for policy makers, regulators, companies, and others to inform that discussion:

  1. The journeys that consumers have to follow are too difficult - this has a big impact on their experience and improvements should be a priority.  Regulators should explore ways to incorporate the quality and speed of consumer journey into their assessment of whether a market is working well or not.

  2. Consumer policy and interventions should be judged according to the outcomes they deliver for consumers. Take terms and conditions: a measure of good T&Cs should be determined by how helpful they are to consumers. Part of this is about making them shorter and more digestible.

  3. There is a consensus emerging that consumer markets should be designed around how people behave in the real world, instead of how idealised models assume. But there is still much to learn about how to operationalise this in practice. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the UK regulators network, and consumer organisations should continue to explore how to make markets deliver for consumers.