Consumer spending is the driving force of our economy, but the way we buy and use goods and services has been transformed over the past decade. People are facing new risks and challenges that have emerged as a result of the changing consumer landscape, such as unsafe products, fake reviews and scams.
If these issues are ignored, consumers will pay the price, and levels of trust in essential markets such as day-to-day banking, mobile phone services and gas and electricity will be further eroded.
A pro-consumer agenda should focus on:
The next government must ensure consumers can act with confidence, are protected when things go wrong, and have high levels of trust in the institutions and businesses that serve them.
Which? believes everyone should have access to a reliable mobile and broadband connection that enables them to participate fully in the digital economy and experience its benefits.
So the next government should set out an ambitious, joined-up strategy to deliver an improved digital infrastructure that meets the needs of people to be connected at home, at work and on the move.
The UK has one of the strongest consumer rights frameworks in the world, but the public and private enforcement systems that support it are no longer fit for purpose and don't reflect the way people buy goods and services today. We need a stronger Consumer and Competition Authority to proactively lead on the enforcement of consumer rights and fair trading law.
The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) should become an independent arm's length product safety regulator and the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) system should be reformed.
Whether it be from scams, fake reviews or insecure connected devices, online threats are a greater concern than ever before.
Fraudsters are also constantly seeking new ways to target people, and online platforms often enable them to reach a wider audience with greater ease and increasingly sophisticated methods.
The next government should place more responsibility on online platforms and marketplaces to prevent scams, fake reviews and the sale of unsafe products, and ensure security is built into the design of connected devices.
Contactless payments and online banking point towards a cashless society, but many parts of the country simply aren't ready. Millions of people still rely on cash and most would find it difficult to live their lives without the ability to make cash withdrawals. Access to cash and other core banking services are seen as being like other utilities - essential to the way we live our lives.
Dismantling the fragile cash network must not be the precursor to wider changes in retail banking before everyone has the digital skills and capability to engage with the changing world.
The next government should guarantee access to cash for as long as it is needed, and ensure all people are protected from Authorised Push Payment (APP) fraud.
Pensions are becomingly ever more complicated and consumers are not engaging due to the lack of clarity around what pension entitlements they have. Which? is calling for the next government to enable everyone to understand their entire pensions savings through comprehensive dashboards.
The pensions gender gap should also be addressed andmore work must be done to ensure that all retirement income products are value for money.
Food and trade policy have both been making headlines with consumers worried that standards could slip. A future trade strategy should be underpinned by world-leading consumer standards, consumer rights and enhanced choice.
The next government should also deliver a national food strategy that maintains the UK's high food standards.