Survey Suggests "New Frugality" is Here to Stay

March 1, 2010
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A new survey-based report from New York-based management consulting firm Booz & Co. suggests that the "new frugality" born of The Great Recession is becoming entrenched and is likely to reshape consumption patterns in ways that will persist long after the economy improves.

According to the report, "New Marketing Imperatives: U.S. Consumer Spending & Shopping Behavior Emerging from the Recession," only 9 percent of approximately 2,000 consumers surveyed by the company last October said they plan to spend at prerecession levels over the next year on household products, non-alcoholic beverages and health care products, while only 10 percent expected to spend at prerecession levels on food at home and alcoholic beverages. The biggest improvements were expected in the consumer electronics, apparel/clothing and food-away-from-home categories, but even in those segments, fewer than 20 percent of consumers said they planned to spend at prerecession levels - despite the fact that almost a third believe their financial status will improve over the next 12 months.

In addition, the report noted, almost two-thirds of consumers agreed that saving is more important than spending, while the same number said they will "shop at a different store with lower prices even if it's less convenient.” Similarly, more than half of all survey respondents (55 percent) said they would rather get the best price than the best brand.

"Frugal behavior is now considered trendy by many shoppers, and will continue [for] years to come," said Booz & Co. partner Matt Egol.

In fact, he continued, many consumers reported switching to less-expensive brands over the past 12 months, particularly in the food-at-home (44 percent of survey respondents), household products (40 percent) and apparel/clothing (36 percent) categories. Consumers were less likely to trade down in the alcoholic beverages (24 percent), tobacco (26 percent), health care (26 percent) and consumer electronics (28 percent) categories.

Not surprisingly, the report said, the shift to less-expensive brands created a strong uptick in private label sales, a trend Booz & Co. believes will continue.

"Retailers are unlikely to give brands back the shelf space that private label has taken, given their dependence on private label for profits," Egol remarked. "In addition, consumers are reporting generally positive experiences when trying private labels, so for some consumers, they are becoming preferred brands."

However, he told PL Buyer, "Growth could slow down a bit as price sensitivity abates post-recession and national brands push back with stepped-up investments in the marketplace."

To keep private label momentum going strong, Egol said, retailers should look for ways to better integrate store brands into in-store marketing programs, including collaborations with national brand manufacturers that allow private label items to be cross-merchandised with branded products. He also suggests retailers leverage frequent shopper data to improve their relationship marketing programs and drive trial of store brand products.

Strong marketing programs that target consumers at every point along the path to purchase are particularly important nowadays because recession-habituated consumers are more inclined than ever to do research before going to the store, the report said. In fact, 83 percent of those shopping for health and beauty products said they researched their purchase at home, followed by 82 percent of household product shoppers and 79 percent of food and beverage buyers. In addition, a whopping 96 percent of survey respondents said they typically head to the store with some sort of shopping list in hand.

Despite an overall trend toward frugality, different consumers place different values on price, brand, convenience and other factors, the report said, noting the increased importance of price for "basics" and convenience and brand for "purchases for self." As a result, retailers should focus on marketing strategies and tactics that address where and why consumers shop rather than relying too heavily on pure demographics. They should also differentiate their marketing messages and promotional offers to more price-conscious consumers vs. those who place greater value on brand or convenience.

For more information or to download the report in its entirety, please visit - Denise Leathers

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