Shopper behaviour still changing in US

15 March 2010

NEW YORK: Current shopping habits in the US show there has been a "shift to thrift" in the country, as the economic downturn leads consumers to adopt a range of new behaviours.

Alix Partners, the consultancy, surveyed 7,700 Americans in order to gain an understanding of their purchase priorities, and to establish which stores were meeting their needs at present.

It reported that members of all demographics were looking to save money by trading down to cheaper alternatives, preferably without suffering a substantial decline in quality as a result.

"What we are seeing here is a clear-cut 'shift to thrift.' What is most important to consumers today is the intersection of 'good-enough' merchandise – not 'the best', but 'good-enough' – and low prices," said Matthew Katz, managing director of Alix Partners.

This constituted a "vast change" from previous such studies, when the service offered by retailers was afforded a status of almost equal importance with the goods they sold.

JC Penney was perceived as having performed particularly well when it came to fulfilling the specific requirements of its customers.

Kohl's has also demonstrated how to achieve this aim, and has seen its stock price rise by nearly 50% over the past year.

"Kohl's has clearly mastered the idea that to sustain success  you must really excel in one area – in this case price – be above average in another – product – and then meet segment expectations in the others," Katz argued.

By contrast, Macy's received less positive feedback, which Alix Partners suggested was a consequence of the increasing incidence of "trade-down activity" among its traditional audience.

Elsewhere, Target was one of the most successful mass-market firms with regard to its apparel offerings, although Wal-Mart is expected to challenge its position going forward.

More broadly, 63% of people who bought drugs at the latter of these two chains now make all of their category purchases from the discounter.

This figure stood at 60% among those contributors who preferred to acquire trainers from stores run by the Arkansas-based firm.

A quarter of participants also said Wal-Mart was now in their top three outlets when it came to buying books, despite the fact it did not feature in the top five on this measure 18 months ago.

Similarly, Wal-Mart, Amazon and Target made the top five in terms of making consumer electronics purchases, even though none had done so in the 2008 poll.

"Consumers are saying that retailers must clearly understand this value equation or they will not part with their dollars," said Katz.

"And they are incredibly comfortable switching to the channel and the retailer that offers real, no-frills, back-to-basics, honest-to-goodness value."

Data sourced from Alix Partners; additional content by Warc staff