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    Consumers Believe They’re Cutting Back, Despite Spending More

    Mintel reveals post-recession shopper trends

    Of the 13 key consumer markets in America today, shoppers claim to be spending more in only two of them – in-home food and household care – despite Mintel’s research indicating that consumer spend year on year has increased across all evaluated markets, highlighting the fact that Americans remain focused on getting the best deals for their dollars.

    “Although the country officially exited recession nearly four years ago and consumer expenditures are up, Americans retain a cautious approach toward purchasing and avoid conspicuous consumption,” said Fiona O’Donnell, lifestyles and leisure analyst at Mintel.

    “While conservative spending may be a result of lingering concerns over the health of the economy and a fear of debt—which affects consumers’ shopping behaviors and perception of how they make spending decisions, it is also likely that consumers’ attitudes have shifted,” O’Donnell added. “That is, rather than having pride in purchases and all things ‘new,’ consumers now appear to take pride in their ability to cut costs, find deals, and pay lower prices than retail.”

    When it comes to where consumers think they are cutting back the most, the out-of-home alcoholic drinks sector appears to have taken the biggest hit with a net difference of 47 percentage points in favor of consumers claiming to be spending less on this area over the past year. Rounding out the top five areas where consumers believe they have reduced spending include: leisure and entertainment (-37 percentage points), vacations (-36 percentage points), dining out (-33 percentage points) and home and garden (-32 percentage points).

    Meanwhile, in terms of actual consumer category spend across the same markets, spend has risen year on year to 2012. Sectors seeing the greatest increase in spending over this period include transportation (+7 percent year on year), dining out (+6 percent), in-home alcoholic drinks (+6 percent), out-of-home alcoholic drinks (+6 percent) and home and garden (+5 percent). Even the lowest increased categories of personal finance (+1.4 percent) and in-home food (+3 percent) have seen gains.

    “In many categories, consumers have been conditioned by a nearly never-ending cycle of sales, coupon offers, members-only discounts, lower-priced product alternatives, etc., to avoid ever paying full price,” O’Donnell continued. “Meanwhile, technological advancements of the past five years and mobile technology’s increasing penetration have made price comparisons and strategic shopping more accessible. For these reasons, marketers should not expect a swing back to pre-recession impulse buying habits and spending on credit.”

    With the lifestyles of many American consumers in flux over the past five years, Mintel’s annual American Lifestyles report highlights the legacy of the economic downturn, demonstrating how frugal ways have become set in the nation’s mindset. When asked about how spending habits have changed over the past five years, two-thirds (66 percent) of all Americans admit they spend money more cautiously. Demonstrating how cost-cutting remains top of mind, four in ten (40 percent) Americans admit they are doing more free activities, while the same number (40 percent) look for more ways to save or invest money. Around four in ten (38 percent) say they are now spending more time with the family, but the same number (38 percent) say they are going on fewer vacations.

    What’s more, revealing the impact of the economic crisis, more than two thirds (68 percent) of consumers say that over the past five years they have been more likely to pay attention to product prices, more than half conduct price comparisons (59 percent), buy items only if there is a need (54 percent), use coupons more often (53 percent) and wait for discounts before buying higher-priced items (52 percent).

    But more than this, it appears that this frugal behavior has translated into some long-term lifestyle changes as well. Some 36 percent of respondents say they cook or bake more often from scratch; 31 percent say they entertain more at home rather than go out; and 27 percent say they do more do-it-yourself projects instead of hiring a professional.

    Today, 34 percent of consumers use their extra money to pay off debt, and just 22 percent say they put those extra funds into their savings account. “The most important factors impacting consumer spending/lifestyles are stagnant real wages, housing prices, rising educational and healthcare costs, and the lack of savings -- retirement and otherwise,” noted Susan Menke, category manager, U.S. financial services at Mintel. “Consumers are experiencing a number of conflicting financial goals which is impeding their ability to save more, even though they want to.”

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