Monday, June 1, 2009

A generation apart?

In Sunday's column, I briefly mentioned a new label coined by Information Resources Inc. -- the Downturn Generation.

IRI's recent consumer research shows today's shoppers are likely to adopt practices that Depression Era shoppers used.

A survey divides us into Optimists, people who think things will get better over the next 12 months; Maintainists, people who don't think it will get better or worse; and Pessimists, people who think next year will be worse. You can picture how their spending has changed from the labels.

About 40 percent of respondents are middle-of-the-road Maintainists, while the remaining 60 percent is split between the Optimists and Pessimists. No real surprise there.

In fact, not much of the research is surprising, given the dire economic news we're hit with daily.

About half are trying new, cheaper brands. New England Consulting Group and other retail watchers have reported that grocery house brands are going strong.

We've used a lot of the house-brand foods from United Supermarket, and I don't think we'll change that habit much after the economy improves.

Retailers don't think so either.

"With 5.7 million Americans out of work since the recession began in December 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and some 16 percent of U.S. employees living on reduced pay, according to a recent Hewitt Associates survey, it's no surprise that many people are cinching their belts," according to an Advertising Age article published today about the new frugality. "What's troubling marketers, however, is the prospect that the consumer psychology has changed during the deepest recession in half a century, and that the tightening will remain when the downturn ends."

So, shoppers have adapted. And if they continue in this new mode, retailers and manufacturers must adapt, too.

A shift of focus to value and more product choices at more price ranges looks like it will remain in play. IRI gives some examples:

"Kellogg's current television commercials focus on 'breakfast for 50 cents' Clorox advertises the multiple uses of their products around the home. Campbell's V-8 Fusion is positioned as affordable health and wellness. People are turning to the tsunami of information available to them on the Internet during their preparation to shop."

Some of the marketing strategies for manufacturers and retailers, suggested by IRI:

-- Shift merchandising out of the store and into the home where shoppers are making lists, downloading coupons and researching their future buys.
-- Increase emphasis on online and social media, again to reach shoppers where they are.
-- Recognize changing consumer rituals. If we're buying in bulk now, why have so many single-serve packages?
-- Focus on familiar products that provide value inexpensively.
-- Shift from creating a product that's a little bit better to entice shoppers to pay a little more to the opposite: products engineered to keep costs down.
-- Realize that shoppers will travel for a deal.

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