Report shows 'conservatism' as top shopper attitude

by Eric Schroeder
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CHICAGO — “Conservatism” has become the pervasive shopper attitude during the ongoing economic downturn, with 42% of consumers bringing food from home to school or work in an effort to save money and more than two-thirds of shoppers entering stores with ready-made lists, according to a new report from SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm.

The report, “The downturn shopper: Buckled in for a wild and crazy ride,” found shoppers are continuing and extending their frugal practices, significantly impacting when, where and how they purchase consumer packaged goods. The report’s findings were based on results from SymphonyIRI’s third-quarter MarketPulse survey, an ongoing survey series established to monitor shoppers’ perceptions around the evolving economy, and the impact that the economy is having on personal financial conditions, lifestyle and shopping behaviors, and money-saving strategies.

“In this prolonged down economy, nearly one in four consumers find it difficult to afford their weekly groceries,” said Susan Viamari, editor of “Times & Trends” for SymphonyIRI. “As a result, many consumers are adjusting their food and beverage-related behaviors in an effort to save money. Through the MarketPulse survey, many consumers are telling a story of optimism that has faded and been replaced with expectations that the economy will remain stagnant or weaken further. In reaction to this lack of confidence, a theme of ‘conservatism’ is prevalent across markets, channels, categories and consumer segments.”

Consistent with MarketPulse findings from the second quarter of this year, more than half of consumers surveyed by SymphonyIRI said they have cut back on the frequency of eating out. A similar number is creating and serving more “simple” and less expensive meals at home. Other trends uncovered included 42% of consumers are bringing snacks/food from home to school or work to save money; 36% of consumers are going to the doctor less and self-treating more to save money; and 35% are turning more frequently to at-home beauty treatments in lieu of spa treatments.

“For C.P.G. marketers, there is a bright side to this downturn economy,” Ms. Viamari said. “Many of the rituals consumers are embracing as they seek to manage their budgets involve packaged goods solutions. But, shoppers are selecting and using these solutions in a very cost-conscious manner. Marketers must understand and deliver against the conservative mindset behind this approach to daily living in order to fully capitalize on opportunities spawned from consumers’ ongoing budgetary concerns.”

The report also found that shoppers are approaching grocery shopping “in a very measured manner.” This has led to many shoppers making decisions before ever entering the grocery store, including more than two-thirds of shoppers entering the stores with ready-made lists and a substantial and growing number of shoppers searching circulars and coupons to find the best deals.

Another avenue being explored by conservative shoppers is the Internet, where consumers are able to research products, download recipes and gather coupons. According to the report, 26% of consumers research products on web sites, an increase of two points from the previous quarter, and 39% of shoppers download recipes off web sites and other on-line sources, versus 36% in the second quarter. Additionally, 37% of consumers download coupons from manufacturer web sites, up from 35% in the previous quarter.

“Retailers and manufacturers seeking to succeed and remain profitable in today’s challenging retail environment must consider implementing aggressive product and shopper marketing initiatives,” said John McIndoe, senior vice-president of marketing, SymphonyIRI. “Most importantly, these initiatives must demonstrate value, not necessarily just based on price and convenience, but also on delivering relevance.”

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