Product Safety Top Priority for Consumers, UL Study Finds

A new study looking at the concerns and priorities of manufactures and consumers shows that while innovation is a key business driver for manufactures, consumers are more concerned with the safety of products and the implications for human health.

The Product Mindset 2013 study from UL—a safety consulting and certification company headquartered in Northbrook, Illinois—poled 1,528 consumers and 1,521 manufacturers across five countries: Brazil, China, Germany, India and the United States, and four industries: high-tech/consumer electronics, food, home building materials and smart appliances.

The study identifies the top issues and concerns of both manufacturers and consumers and what impact those factors have on the way we make, buy and use products. It also looks at the relationship between manufacturers and consumers and pinpoints key ways in which the two groups differ in their values and beliefs.

The study finds that overall consumer confidence is up, with most consumers feeling respected, informed and empowered. But while consumers may appear happier, manufacturers see a need for improvement across multiple areas including innovation, performance, reliability and traceability.

The study highlights globalization as a major driver of change in several key areas. Seventy-eight percent of manufactures surveyed said they operate multinationally, and 88 percent said that supply chain management is becoming more important. Almost half said they plan to increase global sourcing and most expressed a growing concern over transparency, traceability, ethical sourcing and country of origin.

Meanwhile, feelings around tougher government regulation were mixed, with U.S. consumers split down the middle, and U.S. manufactures feeling they are already stringently regulated. The overwhelming majority (92 percent) of consumers in emerging economies like China, however, said they are in favor of increased government regulation.

What’s driving the behavior of manufacturers and consumers today?

According to the UL study, key drivers for manufactures today include cost, time to market, innovation, quality and reliability. And of these drivers, quality is top of mind for both manufactures and consumers. But the study also reveals a notable gap between what consumers want and expect in terms of quality, and what manufacturers deliver.

While 95 percent of the manufacturers surveyed agreed that quality is very important, more than half of consumers surveyed believed that manufacturers use the lowest-cost materials for their products, regardless of quality. Consumers in emerging markets had less expectation around quality, while consumers across the board tended to believe products from developed countries are higher quality.

Connected to quality, and ranking high on the list of priorities for both consumers and manufactures, was product safety. But while 90 percent of the manufacturers surveyed stated that safety is a priority, well over half of consumers said that manufacturers value sales over product safety.

An interesting sidenote to this is that while innovation is a high priority for the manufacturers surveyed, consumers ranked it near the bottom of the list, stating that manufacturers often introduce new products more quickly than needed.

The drivers of tomorrow

In the coming years there’s likely to be a shift in the priorities of manufactures and consumers, the study predicts. Environment, human health, ethical sourcing, traceability, and transparency will all become key issues.

Both consumers and manufactures listed the environment as a growing concern, and both groups agreed that consumers will pay more for eco-friendly products.

Consumers ranked the health impact of products as their number one concern, and this intensified based on perceived intimacy with the body. Consumers were most concerned about the health and safety of food, medical devices, and any product that comes into contact with children.

Download the complete Product Mindset 2013 study.

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