US shoppers could resume old ways

19 December 2012

NEW YORK: Over 30% of US shoppers expect they will "never go back" to their purchase habits from before the financial crisis, but this figure is declining, a survey by McKinsey has suggested.

The consultancy regularly interviews panels of 1,000 adults, and its latest poll, conducted in September, found 35% of consumers predicted their spending "will probably never go back" to former levels.

Scores on this metric, however, had contracted from 41% in September 2011 and 39% in March 2011, indicating a discernible softening in attitudes among the company's sample.

A further 24% anticipated pursuing their previous consumption habits once the economy is "back on track", a total reaching a recent high of 34% in September 2010, falling to 30% in September 2011.

Rebounding income levels recorded 21% on the same measure, a decrease of approximately seven percentage points from the longer term average.

The main factor which would encourage a resumption of prior purchase behaviour was paying off debt or rebuilding savings on 41%, up by five percentage points during the last 15 months.

In all, only 35% of shoppers were still reducing their outlay, a reading that stood at 55% in August 2008 before peaking at 65% in February 2009, gradually declining to 45% by September 2011.

"Consumer loyalty towards brands is not driven predominantly by low prices. Instead, it is informed by the perception people have of a product's quality," the study said.

McKinsey also discovered that 93% of people intend to maintain or increase their spending on store brands in the next year irrespective of the financial situation, primarily thanks to "more-positive-than-expected" experiences with these offerings. 

More broadly, just 31% of contributors were now living "paycheck to paycheck", and 29% reported delaying purchases due to economic uncertainty, both down by ten percentage points year on year.

The proportion of contributors which believed they had a "decreased ability to make ends meet" stood at 27%, down from 41%. Similarly while 40% were worried about losing their job, this marked a slide from 51%.

In keeping with such trends, the 23% of participants feeling optimistic about the American economy constituted the best such result since the rating of 27% logged in September 2009.

Data sourced from McKinsey; additional content by Warc staff