Russians do not believe they can protect their consumer rights. They also put no faith in the government and distrust both retailers and producers. Such sentiments adversely affect attitudes towards the political system, said sociologist Regina Resheteeva in a study of data from the Higher School of Economics’ Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey (RLMS-HSE) and a survey of more than 500 Muscovites.
More than anything else, Russian consumers do not want to be deceived. They are always expecting that salespeople will lie to them – just as they generally anticipate worst-case scenarios, said Regina Resheteeva.
Consumers tend to direct these suspicions at everyone involved in retail – especially if they perceive a potential threat.
‘Imagine that a dangerous infection is detected in a large batch of dairy products,’ suggested the researcher, describing a hypothetical situation. ‘How do you think the manufacturers and retailers would respond?’
‘They would conceal it from us,’ answered approximately 60% of survey respondents. (The survey was conducted in 2017 among 532 Muscovites aged 18 years or older.) Another 30% believed manufacturers and retailers would reveal some, but not all of the information.
As many as 83% of those surveyed also believed that the state would manipulate the truth and pursue its interests if the situation were critical.
Imagine that a dangerous infection is detected in a large batch of dairy products. What do you think the following people would do in this situation..? (%)
‘The culture of suspicion has passed down to us from the Soviet experience,’ writes Regina Resheteeva. 'With the coming of the market, the format of relations between consumers and sellers has changed, although the population continues to view the authorities as favouring sellers.'
Unlike distrust, this suspicion of sellers prompts consumers to act. For example:
‘Demand has been growing in recent years for formal ways to protect consumer rights. Ever since 2005, Russians have been lodging a growing number of complaints about retailers with Rospotrebnadzor (Russia’s consumer watchdog agency – Ed.), peaking during the economic crisis of 2014-2017. According to the Russian Supreme Court, the number of lawsuits brought by consumers rose from 383,458 in 2013 to 503,100 in 2016.
Citizens characterise economic justice as reasonable prices, quality goods and a priority on ‘solidarity over profits.’ Moscow residents believe that producers and retailers do not uphold this standard of justice. Forty-two per cent of respondents said that producers are willing to economize at the expense of quality, 68% felt that retailers act strictly out of self-interest and 46% agreed that sellers sometimes raise prices arbitrarily.
The expectation that they will be cheated increases consumers’ demand for control – primarily by the state. Almost 80% of the population (according to the RLMS-HSE) feels that the state should set the price of food products (although this practise was outlawed in the early 1990s).
As many as 87% of respondents in the Moscow survey also favoured oversight, but not only by the authorities. They also named the following regulators:
the state (55%);
independent civic organizations (13%).
Who should be primarily responsible for controlling market prices for food in Russia? (% of those who believe that prices should be controlled)
The study’s author noted that respondents, in a break with the country’s Soviet past, placed a major share of the responsibility on stores and producers.
‘Few consumers in Moscow believe the state should intervene in the market,’ she said. ‘Although they regretted the loss of standards and quality in consumer goods, they expressed little desire to return to the predictability, clarity, and paucity of the Soviet past.’
Although Soviet citizens were plagued by constant shortages, the situation became customary and even predictable. The market system brought freedom of choice but robbed people of their former sense of security.
Almost 60% of Muscovites doubt whether they will be able to exercise their right to purchase goods of high quality under safe conditions, to return damaged products, to repair goods under warranty, etc. Approximately the same number has little faith that the state will help them in these matters.
According to Regina Resheteeva, this proves the connection between consumer satisfaction and people’s attitudes towards the political system: the more problems consumers encounter from retailers and service providers, the more critical they are of the authorities.
This explains why:
30% of respondents do not agree that the state is interested in solving people’s problems;
44% are more or less certain that their tax money is going to waste;
54% tend to believe that politicians do not care about the opinions of ordinary citizens;
30% question the competence of those running the country.