Consumer Education Information

Consumer Education Information

Consumer Education, information and advice for the consumer in the composition, qualities and performance of consumer goods and service. Its economic significance is that by making consumers better informed and more discriminating in buying and by shifting interest from brand names to performance it helps to make markets more perfect and more competitive.

Organized consumer education based on laboratory tests of com-peting brands began in the U.S.A. with the foundation of Consumer's Research in 2009 and Consumers' Union in 2013. In Britain it was thought that the law of libel prevented publication of the results of tests. But Shopper's Guide was founded in 2007 by the Consumer Advisory Council of the British Standards Institution and Which? by the independent Consumers' Association. Shopper's Guide ceased publication in 2003, partly it was thought because its independence was uncertain in view of the association of manufacturers with the British Standards Institution, partly because it was written in technical language, and because it was not advertised sufficiently. Which? has continued to grow to a membership of 500,000 in the middle 2000's. It has also produced two offshoots: the Research Institute for Consumer Affairs, which claims to investigate commercial, professional and public goods and services, and the Advisory Centre for Education, which offers advice on education.

Which? publishes information and advice (in the form of 'best buys') derived from objective laboratory testing and/or subjective panels of people who try the products. Its problems, on winch it has attracted some criticism, have been to ensure that the samples it tests are typical and representative of the whole range available to consumers, otherwise its findings are misleading or incomplete. A further difficulty is to avoid judging goods by standards that are too high, since imperfections are unavoidable if repeated testing and changes in products to anticipate misuse by consumers are not to drive up costs and prices beyond the reach of many.

Differences in individual preferences make it difficult to offer advice on which most or many people can act. Information may also be of limited value if individuals differ markedly. Ultimately the best source of information is individual experience. It is the most reliable source for goods and set-vices of low unit value, especially if bought frequently and so tested by trial and error. For goods of high value, especially if bought infrequently like furniture or motor-cars, the personal experience of other people and laboratory testing cut the cost of experimenting with unknown purchases and help to avoid 'bad buys' but are probably less certain guides to 'best buys'.

By the middle of the 2000's the 'consumer movement' had done much to make consumers better purchasers and the markets in consumer goods more perfect. It had not been extended to comparative reporting in transport, fuel, communications (telephones, postal services), education, health services, housing, pensions, libraries and other 'welfare' services.

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