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New generation of ‘recession shoppers’ turn to the internet

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New research into the impact of the recession on British shopping habits, conducted by LinkShare and Penn Schoen & Berland Associates, has identified the emergence of a new kind of consumer — the Recession Shopper. The researchers interviewed consumers in March 2009 with the aim of finding out how they expect to change their online shopping patterns in 2009.

92% of respondents said that they now have more confidence in online information than sales people in shops. 81% are doing online research ‘most of the time’ before buying a product and 78% say that this is because TV advertising does not give them enough information to make an informed decision. As a result, there is a net decrease of 19% of those who expect to make high street purchases in the coming year, compared to an anticipated 22% net increase in online shoppers.

These factors have all contributed to the rise of the Recession Shopper, say the researchers. These are the people who intend to migrate their shopping online to mitigate an increasingly challenging economic situation. As their purse strings tighten, they will not cease to spend; instead, they will simply make sure they are doing so more wisely.

The research broke down the UK’s major regions to identify where the increase in online spending is happening most quickly. The south of England (comprising the south-east, south-west, London and the east of England) shows the strongest expected growth with 23% of people planning to increase their online spend this year. They are followed by 20% of people in the Midlands and Wales, with the north of England and Scotland trailing behind with only 18% expecting to spend more online.

The range of research and advice tools available online allow consumers to have confidence in their purchases and to compare them against other people’s experiences, the researchers found. More than ever consumers are using more than one source to research their purchases. Most popular are price comparison engines, used by 75% of respondents. Other key research tools include user reviews (69%) and professional review sites (66%).

Loyalty/reward sites and voucher sites are rated highly by 55% and 52% of respondents respectively. For the Recession Shopper, voucher sites are especially important: 43% have purchased a product online that they wouldn’t otherwise have considered, as a result of finding a relevant voucher and 26% of respondents said that they now receive email alerts from voucher sites.

Overall, 31% of respondents said that they will make more online purchases this year. 58% are expecting to spend at least as much as they did in 2008, if not more.

“The message to retailers is clear: Consumers are moving online to deal with the recession,” says Liane Dietrich, LinkShare’s UK managing director. “To take advantage of this opportunity retailers must provide a clear value message in all of their online communications. Vouchers, for example, have taken off enormously since the recession hit and this is a trend that will only continue as the nation adjusts to its new financial situation.”

“Online customer experience is more important than ever, with users likely to write reviews which others will refer to before making a decision,” he explained. “Stores must offer clear, easy to understand product descriptions and check out processes that encourage customers not just to spend once but to write positive reviews and to come back again in the future.”

Rob Vance at Penn Schoen & Berland Associates added: “People increasingly see the internet giving them a great range of products and a simple and easy way to shop. But they are also information hungry as they shop around for the best deals, so retailers need to work hard to satisfy this demand. The recession is accelerating this process and retailers that can offer convenience, relevant information and a good deal will be able to grow even in this challenging economic environment.”

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