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Are consumers really empowered?

Posted on: Wednesday 25th of November 2009

Just received some new research we’ve been doing into consumers’ own perceptions of how empowered they are. It throws up some interesting dichotomies.

It’s a common theme nowadays that thanks to the Internet, social networking and so on, consumers are much more empowered than they once were. For example in a speech last month Asda CEO Andy Bond said:

“There’s no doubt we’re seeing the dawn of a new age. It’s no longer about the traditional holders of    power and influence, but where consumers dictate the way we do business and the products we sell.”

“The digital era has brought about a radical transfer of power in favour of ordinary people. People are more connected than ever before, and they’re putting their trust in themselves and each other. They are undermining traditional hierarchies and questioning the role of experts.”

Yet our research, with Lightspeed, shows two things. First consumers/citizens feel far from empowered in their dealings with organisations. For example, when dealing with a big organisation, fewer than 25% of individuals (on average) believe the organisation will listen to their request and do its best to deal with it. Far more believe they will be completely ignored or that it will be a major hassle to get the organisation to listen.

Second, consumers don’t feel able to exert their power where it matters – the value they get from organisations. In thirteen out of the 17 industry sectors and categories we looked at (including financial services, travel, energy, consumer goods, groceries, telecommunications and utilities) consumers feel they are getting poor, not good, value. In many, they feel they are positively being ‘ripped-off’.

I’m still trying to think through the implications of this research. It seems clear for example that consumers /citizens feel ‘empowered’ in some ways but not in others. That raises the question ‘do they feel empowered in the ways that matter?’; and what connections are there (if any) between the areas where they do feel empowered and where they don’t?

If you want a more detailed write-up of these results, get in touch with me at