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“empowering Energy Consumers: The Pros And Cons Of Residential Solar Panels”
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By Patrizia Gazzola Patrizia Gazzola Scilit Preprints.org Google Scholar 1, * , Gianluca Colombo Gianluca Colombo Scilit Preprints.org Google Scholar 2, Roberta Pezzetti Roberta Pezzetti Scilit Preprints.org Google Scholar 1 and Luminița Nicolescu Luminița Nicolescu Scilit Preprints.org Google Scholar 3
Received: March 19, 2017 / Revised: April 19, 2017 / Accepted: April 21, 2017 / Published: April 27, 2017
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The advent of the digital economy and, indirectly, competition in the online market has raised new challenges in terms of consumer protection approaches. The Internet is expected to improve consumer skills and increase consumer awareness and engagement. These are the basic prerequisites for a sustainable purchasing decision and should therefore be considered as the basis for responsible online consumption. In line with the new consumption issues, this article is designed to promote and test a research model that integrates five main elements, namely, online market competition, online consumer skills, online consumer awareness, online consumer engagement, and sustainable purchase decision. A total of 318 college students — a representative group of the new generation of millennials — accepted an invitation to take part in the questionnaire-based survey. In order to properly analyze the collected data, a structural equation modeling method based on the least squares method was used to evaluate the measurement and the structural model. Findings showed that the model explained 24.4% of the variance in rational purchasing decisions, with improving the skills of online shoppers having the biggest impact. This means that online providers must rethink their product sustainability standards in order to maintain a competitive edge.
Over the past few years, the digital economy has established itself as a complex structure, including a rapidly growing number of nodes and links, assets and services that are connected through complex networks consisting of intertwined value chains [1, 2, 3]. Based on technologies that require a strong Internet connection  (p. 15), the digital economy poses new challenges in terms of expanding product markets and customer service at an unprecedented pace, as evidenced by various facts and figures . ] (page 12). For example, gross revenues generated by only one sector of the digital economy, namely the cooperation economy, doubled in the European Union (EU) in 2015 compared to 2014, reaching approximately EUR 28 billion  (p. 1). ). Moreover, at the moment, almost 40% of the world’s population has access to the digital economy (or Internet economy)  (p. 5), and while the Internet – a means of accessing this system – “remains inaccessible, inaccessible and unaffordable for the majority of the world’s population”, mainly living in India, China and countries outside the top 20, the situation is rapidly changing  (p. 8), .
Since the digital economy welcomes constant innovation and competition in the business sector, it also contributes to consumer welfare . By making services and products available to consumers that they could not previously access, the growing adoption of digital technologies in both business and the public sector stimulates trade  (p. 12), redefines marketing practices  and creates a significant shift in people’s behavior [10, 11, 12, 13, 14].
The expected positive results of the digital revolution, which is steadily engulfing the world’s economies, are accompanied by a number of concerns about the ability to control the ongoing transformation processes. New business models challenge existing policies at various levels: competition policy, consumer protection, privacy, taxation and intellectual property rights  (p. 9), . Without additional changes, such as regulation and improved skills and institutions to help implement these rules, the opportunities for accelerated growth that digital technologies can offer may be replaced by unexpected risks  (p. 5). For example, automating Internet services leads to low marginal costs, which are associated with large economies of scale and favor natural monopolies that can harm consumers if there is no regulation to protect their interests  (p. 13). . Since existing systems of regulation and standards tend to evolve more slowly than the digital revolution flourishes, various concerns have already been raised that “consumer protection mechanisms are becoming obsolete and outpacing the pace of change in the digital economy”  (p. 1).
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Much of the existing research related to the relationship between digital technologies and the economic sector focuses on the need for new legislation and its enforcement. While the regulatory framework differs across the EU, North America and other parts of the globe, both consumer protection and competition policy are of interest [1, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22] . Consumer protection can only be effectively strengthened by additional or revised legislation and political and/or regulatory intervention along with direct consumer demand . These factors have been identified as key drivers of integral gains between 2012 and 2015  (p. 3),  (p. 12).
The power that consumers have over companies in the new economic model, where formal rules are sometimes absent or difficult to enforce, has been briefly discussed in recent years . At the EU level, a consumer empowerment index (integrating consumer skills, awareness of consumer law and consumer engagement) has been calculated, although it is not entirely applicable to the characteristics of the digital economy . However, it is an appropriate starting point for interpreting the impact of competition in the digital economy on consumer actions and reactions in the online marketplace.
Empowered consumers can drive innovation, productivity, and competition  through education, access to relevant information, and the ability to correctly evaluate information to make better decisions as buyers  (pp. 12–16). They use the opportunity to exchange opinions and opinions to the extent that a new type of consumer appears: the “prosumer” , a rational consumer who collects knowledge about goods and services, actively participates in the market, sharing his knowledge. in order to reduce uncertainty [28, 29, 30, 31]. They seized the opportunity to make purchasing decisions, and now well-informed, educated and active consumers play the role of driving competition in the market  (p. 27).
Building on this logic and on the fundamental literature linking competition, consumer empowerment, and sustainable purchasing decisions, this paper aims to examine the relationships between these basic constructs. As mentioned earlier, consumer empowerment is driven by three pillars (i.e., consumer skills, awareness of consumer law, and consumer engagement), according to the taxonomy of Nardo et al. . This approach is in line with the position of the European Commission, which recognizes that “consumer empowerment is a function both of the skills, knowledge and perseverance of consumers themselves, and of the protections, rules and institutions designed to support them when they play their role” . (page 8). Thus, it depends simultaneously on good cognitive skills, knowledge of consumer rights and specific authorities, as well as available remedies.
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The focus of this study is on the younger generation, the so-called millennials, thus giving credit to the findings of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)  regarding differences across age groups in terms of consumption. patterns and interest in sustainable consumption. The OECD study collected data from seven European countries, including Italy, and found that millennials “generally have a very high awareness of the need to reduce pollution, improve human health and increase respect for human rights globally. They believe that their generation consumes too much and want more information on how to reduce the negative environmental and social consequences of their consumption”  (p. 47).
Taking into account the above arguments, the article is structured as follows: the second section depicts the theoretical background and the development of hypotheses; the third section describes the materials and methods, namely
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