The New Consumer Frugality

What does this mean for health providers?

Retailers must adapt to the enduring shift in U.S. consumer spending and behavior, according to a new Booz & Company survey of buying habits.

A new survey of 2,000 U.S. consumers, the second issued by Booz & Company since the early days of the recession in October 2008, confirms that a “new frugality,” born of the Great Recession and evidenced by two consecutive years of declining per capita consumption, is now becoming entrenched among U.S. consumers and is reshaping their consumption patterns in ways that will persist even as the economy starts to recover.

A new frugality, characterized by a strong value consciousness that dictates trade-offs in price, brand, and convenience, has become the dominant mind-set among consumers in the United States — and probably in other wealthy countries as well. Two-thirds of American shoppers are cutting coupons more frequently, buying low price over convenience, and emphasizing saving over spending. Per capita consumption expenditure has declined across demographic groups. Consumer sentiment remains weak. These trends are not going to change, no matter the pace of economic change.

Annual consumer surveys conducted by Booz & Company during the past two years suggest that the deep and prolonged nature of the recession, in conjunction with longer-term trends — such as ongoing shifts in the share captured by retailers’ private labels and the greater online research shoppers do before going to the store — has hardened changes in consumer spending and behavior. Even as a slow recovery is under way, it is becoming clear that consumers are not going to step up to store counters with pre-recession alacrity. Marketers and retailers that wait for them to do so are taking a major risk with the futures of their companies. And as consumer demand returns, it will likely center on a different mix of price points, brands and private labels, and retail formats than prior to the recession.

Read more at strategy + business: The New Consumer Frugality (by Matthew Egol, Andrew Clyde, Kasturi Rangan)

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