Antitrust & Competition Policy Blog

Editor: D. Daniel Sokol
University of Florida
Levin College of Law

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Price Intransparency, Consumer Decision Making and European Consumer Law

Posted by D. Daniel Sokol

Willem H. Van Boom, Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Erasmus School of Law discusses Price Intransparency, Consumer Decision Making and European Consumer Law.

ABSTRACT: Price comparison is a basic element of competition. For comparison to work, at least prices need to be transparent. Moreover, price is usually a focal point in consumer thinking and deciding on transactions. Hence, obfuscating prices can be detrimental to consumers. Therefore, it is vital for policy-makers to know how transparent pricing really is.

Commercial practices involving price intransparency can be detrimental to consumer decision making and may be associated with market failure. So, legislative intervention to ensure price transparency is sometimes warranted. Suppliers may disclose and frame pricing information in such ways as to influence consumers. For some suppliers, advantages may be gained by obfuscating price - through practices ranging from the outright hiding of price terms in the small print to subtle ways of throwing in gifts or adding charges during the vending process. Do consumers appreciate the implications of the fact that by framing price in different ways suppliers actually try to influence their demand for products? And how does the law broadly speaking respond to problems of price intransparency?

In this article, behavioral science insights are combined with a legal analysis of European consumer law in order to chart some of the detrimental influences of price intransparency on the consumer decision-making process and to answer whether and to what extent European consumer law addresses these issues. In doing so, this article first reviews research from consumer psychology, marketing, and behavioral law, and economics regarding the influence of presentation, framing, and transparency of price on the consumer decision-making process. Subsequently, it describes and evaluates the legal framework offered by European consumer law and how this framework responds to practices of price intransparency. Particular problematic pricing techniques are identified and discussed. In conclusion, attention is drawn to the disadvantages of the increasing full harmonization character of European consumer law for combating price intransparency at Member State level.

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