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Market Monitoring

Through the use of market monitoring the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband, vzbv) scrutinises digital markets, the energy sector and financial markets from the consumer perspective.

vzbv uses market monitoring to analyse market developments in the fields of digital services, energy and financial services. To this end, specialised teams evaluate reports of anomalies and consumer complaints from all over Germany – in 2020, vzbv received close to 380,000 enquiries and almost 237,000 complaints concerning products and providers. Thanks to this consumer information on market developments, vzbv can identify problems and shortcomings at an early stage and take targeted action to resolve the issue to the benefit of consumers. 

In order to achieve this, the expert teams work according to the simple principle: identify – inform – act.

The records kept by the sixteen Consumer Associations in Germany document all enquiries and complaints submitted online or through the approximately 200 advice centres across Germany.

Through quantitative and qualitative evaluation of consumer complaints the Market Monitoring teams have been able in recent years  to identify several structural consumer issues, such as problems with refunds for booked holidays during the COVID-19 crisis or difficulties to withdraw from online purchases. In the energy sector, problems with electricity suppliers are the main reason for consumer complaints. These include problems with billing and, with around 16,000 reported cases in 2020, complaints concerning contracts concluded without the knowledge of the consumer following unsolicited marketing calls as well as price modifications. Also, many consumers complained about savings agreements that have been cancelled and, linked to this, often also about incomprehensible interest rate calculations by banks and savings banks.

If problems occur with providers or products, vzbv warns consumers, for example, about unwanted contracts following unsolicited calls or fake trading platforms that try to lure in consumers with exaggerated returns.

Where necessary, vzbv carries out in-depth investigations in order to examine, for example, how social media providers comply with data protection rules. Investigations such as the one into an insolvent energy supplier help to ensure a greater degree of transparency by identifying signs which consumers can use to tell when an energy company is in crisis.

vzbv also forwards its findings to supervisory and regulatory authorities such as the German Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) and the Federal Network Agency (BNetzA), and engages in dialogue with policy-makers, academics and providers.

The findings that vzbv obtains through its market monitoring about the situation of consumers in Germany strengthen vzbv’s advocacy work and provide key evidence for legal action.

For example, the persistent problems with unwanted contracts as experienced by consumers provide important case studies to support vzbv’s political demands to improve consumer law.

In the event of unlawful behaviour by providers, vzbv can issue cease and desist letters or bring legal actions, as in the case of an investment broker who failed to highlight the mandatory warning of a possible complete loss of assets in its advertising videos. vzbv was able to successfully bring legal action against that company on the basis of consumer complaints. vzbv has also filed lawsuits against well-known payment and messenger services on the basis of consumer complaints.

For consumers and with consumers

vzbv regularly invites consumers to participate in its market monitoring via announcements in the Market Monitoring tab of verbraucherzentrale.de. 

By finding and sharing alerts, taking part in calls for evidence or reporting their problems with products and providers via the online complaint form, consumers help the Market Monitoring teams to better understand problems and collect substantiating evidence of possible undesirable developments.

How market monitoring works

vzbv monitors the development of the market and collects, in a methodologically sound manner, information concerning undesirable activities and abuses by undertakings. The Market Monitoring teams evaluate information and consumer complaints from various sources in accordance with standards of empirical social science.

The records kept by all the Consumer Associations in Germany document all enquiries and complaints handled by the approximately 200 Consumer Advice Centres across Germany. For this, the Consumer Advice Centres use a fix system of categorisation. vzbv then evaluates the enquiries and complaints in a quantitative manner. This enables vzbv to obtain data regarding consumer needs for information and consumer problems across Germany, for example:

  • Which problems and products do consumers most frequently complain about to the Consumer Associations?
  • How is the complaint data developing?

The early warning network is the qualitative pillar of vzbv’s Market Monitoring. Here, vzbv’s experts examine consumer problems in greater detail. Particularly notable cases from the Consumer Associations’ consumer advice activities, which are written up in detail and reported to vzbv, provide the basis for this qualitative work.

It includes: 

  • cases involving heavy financial losses. Where, for example, consumers run the risk of losing all their invested money due to false claims.
  • cases that focus on particularly vulnerable target groups. Where, for example, providers of gaming apps specifically target children with in-app purchases.
  • particularly frequent cases, such as cases relating to the cancellation of booked holiday trips in 2020.
  • as well as new topics and trends, such as unsolicited marketing calls and unwanted contracts.

vzbv systematically processes and analyses these cases with regard to systemic problems and misconduct by providers. When an undesirable development on the market is identified, vzbv responds and takes appropriate measures to eliminate the problem in the interest of consumers.