For the European Commission (Executive Agency for Health and Consumers), and in collaboration with Ecorys and GfK Belgium, in 2013-2014 we studied the role of online information about energy efficiency during product selection by European consumers. Specifically we examined (1) how the current EU energy label in traditional stores (Figure 1) can be made applicable for use in web stores and (2) when the (adapted) label should be shown: is this immediately during the presentation of the complete product range or when shoppers click on detailed information about a particular product or a number of particular products?
Figure 1. Current energy label
Figure 2. Online label options
Based on a study of scientific literature and conversations with experts in the field of consumer psychology and behavioral economics, we developed four types of labels (Figure 2). We examined the effectiveness of these types of labels and the current label in web stores with an online experiment involving around 11,000 consumers in ten EU countries. We used simulated trips to stores during which consumers purchased fictional products in a number of web stores. During these visits, the participants were able to view one of the labels.
A uniform approach in which the current energy label is also mandatory for web stores does not appear to be effective. In general, the smaller online labels were more effective in promoting energy efficient product choices than the current large label. For consumers who value energy efficiency, the new types of labels were more or less as effective as the current label. However, for consumers who are relatively unconcerned about value energy efficiency in their selection of products, the labels that were less obvious about the energy efficiency of the product (for example, “the class-only” and “frame-of-reference” labels in Figure 2) were the most effective. These labels may have been misinterpreted as indicators of the quality of the products. These results show that an online environment demands a different approach than a traditional retail environment and that the development of online labels must take into account the limited amount of space and possible misinterpretations due to the limited amount of information that smaller labels can communicate.