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Shopping through the recession: 40% of consumers have changed the shops they use

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87% of UK households are making changes in reaction to the recession, according to research by Shoppercentric, an independent agency specialising in shopper behaviour research which has conducted a thousand online interviews with the main grocery shopper for each household.

The research identified four key attitude groups among shoppers:

  1. Unaffecteds – 13% of shoppers who seem confident that their situation or their existing spending patterns mean they won’t be affected by the recession. Although this group claims to be unaffected by the recession they are still making changes to their shopping habits, albeit at a lower level than the average.

  2. Planners – 15% of shoppers who haven’t been affected yet, but are making changes just in case. The majority have noticed their household costs going up, and are planning for the worst in terms of the recession. They have a focus on price, but also on avoiding temptation, and economising by making meals from scratch.

  3. Soft Reactors – 48% of shoppers. These shoppers claim they have had to make changes to household spending because of the recession, but that so far these changes are small. The tactics they particularly favour include switching to own label brands, sticking to large main grocery shopping trips rather than top-up shops, being more price aware and avoiding both waste and temptation. “In some respects, therefore, shoppers in this group are learning the basics of household financial management,” say the researchers.

  4. Strong Reactors – 24% of shoppers. This is the group most seriously affected by the economic situation, and as a result are having to make major changes to their spending habits. They are also most likely to demonstrate active shopping between stores in order to get the best deals or prices available.

“Whilst UK consumers are being differently affected by the downturn in the economy, they are all making changes to their buying habits to a greater or lesser degree,” comments Dr Susan Rose, consumer behaviour expert at Henley Business School. “These changes include shifts in attitudes and a reconsideration of what they value, which in turn results in actual adjustments in purchase behaviour.”

Other key findings include:

  • The gender divide: 16% of men can be described as ‘unaffected’ compared with 11% of women. Furthermore women appear to be reacting faster to tightening their budgets with 50% of women falling into the ‘soft reactor’ group compared to 46% of men.

  • Shopping strategies: 87% of respondents said that they were cutting back on temptation and more planning of what they need before a shopping trip, 92% said they were being more price sensitive and looking for price cutting promotions, 86% were making an effort to avoid waste and to making things go further. A further 84% were avoiding the more expensive shops and going where the deals are.

  • Passive versus active choices: As the figures demonstrate, shoppers are not pinning all their hopes on a single strategy, but are using a range of tactics. Passive choices — making choices based on what’s in the store the shopper is in — is the approach most likely to be taken by those in least need of reducing their spending. Active choices — choosing which store to use based on which will offer the best value — is the strategy typically adopted by those in most need of reducing their spending, which is 91% of strong reactors against 68% of unaffecteds.

  • Changing shops: 40% have now started to use shops that they didn’t frequent before.

  • Local shop usage: 27% cited that they were using local shops more often. This could be the result of wishing to save on travel costs, but it could also be related to a growing feeling of the importance of ‘buying British’ and the desire to support local businesses.

  • Store environments versus pricing: 63% said they would prefer stores invested money in lowering prices rather than creating smarter environments.

  • Indulgence versus necessities: Of all the different spending categories, 71% said that going out to pubs and clubs was the biggest area of indulgence they were cutting down on. This was closely followed with 66% reducing the number of times they eat out and 61% said a holiday was an indulgence they would do without. In terms of necessities consumers cannot go without, the most popular with 28% was the purchase of fresh meat and fish followed by the purchase of toiletries at 16%.

  • Brands versus own label: 57% of the sample agree that they are buying more own label products now than in the past as a result of the economic situation.

“With the economic situation developing on a daily basis, it is very clear that shoppers have been significantly impacted,” saysDanielle Pinnington, Managing Director at Shoppercentric. “We believe that there will be a long term impact as well which may result in a less frivolous, more considered population.”

“The current situation is forcing shoppers to confront their past excesses, and many of the cost-cutting strategies they are learning as a result are likely to remain with them once the downturn ends,” she explained. “A simpler, less excessive lifestyle, however, will mean that retailers and brands will have to be more competitive to stay in the game. Simply creating a brand, giving it strong promotion and hoping for the best, will no longer be enough. What retailers need to understand is that shoppers are looking for support through the bad times, and if they can provide that, it will be rewarded during and after the recession with repeat business and customer loyalty.”

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