Consumer anxiety remains

15 May 2012

NEW YORK: A majority of consumers in the US and Western Europe are still "anxious" about the future, a trend reshaping attitudes towards overall spending and categories like luxury, new research has shown.

The Boston Consulting Group polled 15,000 adults in 16 nations, including China, France, Germany, Japan, the UK and US. It revealed that anxiety levels were highest in Europe, where economic conditions remain adverse.

More specifically, 78% of Spanish respondents showed high anxiety. This total fell to 69% in Italy, 53% in France and 51% in the UK, while the US posted 52% and China 28%.

In France, Spain and the UK, a majority said they did not believe the economy would improve "for the next several years", hitting 48% in Japan, 47% in Italy and 43% in the US. These ratings stood at a more modest 39% in Germany and 33% in China.

Equally, over 30% of the Italian and Spanish panels felt insecure about their job prospects in the coming year, as did 29% of Britons and 25% of Germans. Scores fell to another low, of 12%, for the Chinese sample.

Elsewhere, concerns regarding their personal financial situation weighed heavily on lots of contributors, with returns surpassing 50% in Italy and 40% in the Spain, the UK and US. China again saw much greater optimism, on 16%.

"If you take the world from the perspective of the middle-class citizen in the US and Western Europe, we are still lurching from crisis to crisis," said Michael Silverstein, a BCG senior partner.

Looking ahead, 83% of adults questioned in China predicted the next generation would lead a "better life", plummeting to 28% for the UK, 21% for the US, 13% for Germany and 12% for France.

A key trend highlighted by BCG was a change in the issues which were seen as important by shoppers, with "health" climbing the rankings in many markets, especially France, Germany, Japan and the US.

Value for money witnessed the strongest increase in the UK, and was in the top three for their French, German and American peers. Luxury, by contrast, experienced a substantial decline across every market.

"Consumers will give up their hard-earned discretionary dollars for products that deliver. The roaring sales of iPhones are one of the best examples," Silverstein added.

However, the analysis also stated there would be a "sentiment hangover" as the recession recedes, meaning consumers were likely to spend "very cautiously" going forward, particularly in Greece, Italy and Spain.

Data sourced from The Boston Consulting Group; additional content by Warc staff