US shoppers remain frugal

07 March 2011

NEW YORK: A majority of US shoppers are still engaging in "belt-tightening" and other measures to save money, a McKinsey survey has revealed.

The consultancy polled 3,000 adults across America, all of , and reported 61% of interviewees had cut their outgoings in the last six months, including 25% that "significantly" pared back domestic expenses.

Such figures almost exactly mirrored the standings from the first quarter of 2010, although the total was three percentage points below the rating lodged in the third quarter of 2009.

"All economics, in the end, is personal - the cumulative result of zillions of decisions. And it is those many transactions that are making up this rather muddled picture," the study argued.

More positively, conditions have improved markedly on the opening three months of 2009, when 90% of contributors trimmed budgets, coming in at 69% over the following quarter.

However, during the overall assessment period, the proportion of individuals attempting to achieve substantial reductions only fell from 33% to 25%.

Elsewhere, the company suggested the savings rate has grown from less than zero in 2006 to around 6% at present.

Indeed, just 18% of its participants disagreed with the statement "I no longer desire to buy many of the things I used to spend money on", indicating the scale of the shift engendered by the recession.

Another 14% plan to stop using credit cards, an idea tantamount to "treason" three years ago, the study added, while 7.1% are repaying loans.

In contrast, 2.3% were seeking to take out a loan, which could, for example, cover buying a new car, education or getting a mortgage.

These collective trends appear likely to stay in place going forward, as 56% of Americans predict their personal financial situation to remain unchanged in the next six months.

Some 22% asserted their circumstances should be "slightly better" and 4% forecast a substantial improvement, measured against 14% believing it would become moderately worse, and 5% expecting a significant drop off.

Scores here matched those in the third quarter of 2009, and the sole difference from Q1 the same year is that approximately 13% of people thought conditions may stabilise, rather than deteriorate.

"While the economic news has been guardedly optimistic, with corporate earnings and economic growth improving, the way Americans are actually dealing with their money betrays a decidedly more pessimistic outlook," McKinsey said.

Looking even further ahead, 10% of the sample anticipated the downturn might endure for five years, doubling the number adopting this position in 2009.

Nearly half of shoppers also envisaged that the financial climate is set to be adverse for 24 months or so.

"The green shoots of optimism apparent in 2009 have not taken root," McKinsey said.

"Economics is, in part, a confidence game, particularly in the US, where more than two-thirds of GDP is generated by consumer activity.

"Until consumers feel confident again, the game cannot be won."

Data sourced from McKinsey; additional content by Warc staff