Empowerment to the consumer

Disintermediation is an ugly word but one popular in marketing circles these days. Its limited charm resides in the layers of nuance that can be attributed to it. Thus for the aspiring Internet company, launched in the spring and floated on Nasdaq in autumn of the following year, it’s a buzzword liberally sprinkling any document drawn up to justify its fragile existence to potential investors.

To the manufacturer, too, disintermediation is the embodiment of hope. It hints at a not too distant future where – through the agency of technology – high-street retailers are at last reduced to impotence. In other words, a valuable and more profitable relationship with the end-consumer is envisioned, cemented on the spoils derived from cutting out the middleman.

But brand marketers should beware. The consumer will not be so easily harnessed – or hoodwinked. Note, for example, developments in the UK car industry. For years car makers have colluded in a ‘captive’ retailing system which enables them (as a cartel) to charge pretty much what their competitors will allow them to get away with. There’s been little room for the private buyer to manoeuvre. Accusations of rip-off pricing have been arrogantly shrugged aside by the makers, who assert that any perceived ‘imbalance’ in UK pricing is illusory, and results from an imperfect understanding of the oppressive tax systems prevailing in the rest of Europe.

Until now, that is. Little by little, consumer power has been making itself felt. First, because the Government has perceived that ‘Rip-off Britain’ is a real vote catcher and begun to act accordingly, with the promise of more effective price competition and swingeing fines for those caught fixing the market. Second, because consumers have taken the initiative themselves, with significant adverse results for UK car sales. Personal imports of lower-priced vehicles, a process traditionally considered too bureaucratic and time-consuming to pose a serious threat, have increased from a trickle to a torrent.

Media coverage has played its part, but so too has a proliferation of Websites offering the consumer easy access to hitherto elusive information, such as price comparisons. Highly significant, perhaps, is the entry of the Consumers’ Association as a kind of ‘honest broker’ on the personal import scene. It will be able to offer the kind of leverage no individual could dream of.

The fact that Saab has now broken ranks and publicly accepted that car makers must slash their UK prices or face a market crisis may, or may not, be a milestone. What is indisputable is that consumer collective bargaining, whether through the Net or other means, has come to stay. A number of sectors will feel the heat: among them travel and tourism, financial services (particularly pensions), telecoms and utilities.

The question is: are marketers up to the challenge?

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email customerservices@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here