Consumer habits change in US and Europe

24 June 2009

LONDON: Almost two-thirds of consumers in the US and Western Europe have been "directly impacted" by the financial crisis in a way that has caused them to change their behaviour when buying products and using media, a new study by Initiative has found.

The Interpublic Group media network's report – entitled The Game Changer: How the recession has created permanent changes in consumer behaviour – argues consumers are currently "shaking themselves out of settled patterns of behaviour."

Based on a survey of 3,200 adults in China, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and US, Initiative found that 63% of Americans and Europeans have been forced to adapt to changing circumstances.

Its participants in the US and Europe were divided into four groups, the smallest of which – equating to 11% of consumers in these regions – are "confidently secure" and "carrying on life as normal."

A further 26% of respondents have "limited savings" which are helping to "cushion" them from the downturn, but this segment is also taking a "live for today attitude" and maintaining their expenditure.

Some 39% of Initiative's panel are "hurt but optimistic", and have cut back their spending levels, but believe conditions will improve in the near future.

Consumers that have been forced to reduce their outlay to purely buying "the basics" are "feeling the brunt" of the financial crisis, and make up 24% of the media network's sample.

A total of 75% of those taking part in the poll also reported that they have changed their purchase behaviour in some way since the onset of the recession, with "commodity categories" witnessing the most pronounced rise in price sensitivity.

In the household cleaning and laundry sector, for example, 34% of shoppers are now increasingly likely to trade down to cheaper brands, while 29% are buying more private label goods.

Similarly, in the skincare and toiletries market, 16% of shoppers in the UK are looking to purchase lower-cost items, although most do not view store brands as a viable alternative.

The number of people who are actively searching for coupons and offers on the web has also increased by 58% on an annual basis.

A further 49% are now researching their purchases on the internet more often, while 48% are reading an increased amount of consumer-generated content and buying a growing number of goods online.

Another observable trend across all the consumer categories is a desire to buy "treats", with 20% of those "feeling the brunt" and 17% who are "confidently secure" admitting to this trait.

This shows, according to Initiative, that "even the worst hit consumers are indulging themselves from time to time in order to cope with the pressures of the economic climate."

Overall, the company says that "consumer values are shifting away from brand heritage to integrity and authenticity", meaning "brands need to demonstrate that they are on the side of the consumer."

The situation is somewhat different in China, where 28% of participants belong to the "confidently secure" category, largely as the country's economy has been "less affected by the global downturn."

Data sourced from AdWeek/Initiative; additional content by WARC staff