Despite some bright spots on the economic horizon, shopping remains more of a battle than a pleasure for financially skittish consumers. While consumers continue to rely on traditional money-saving methods — like clipping coupons — many are using digital tactics to help save money.
A SymphonyIRI Group MarketPulse survey on how the economy affects behavior and attitudes when buying consumer products found that U.S. consumers were more optimistic in Q4 over Q3 2011, but still relied on frugal habits developed during the recession.
For example, 39% of survey respondents downloaded coupons from manufacturer websites in Q4, while 37% downloaded coupons from retailer websites, up slightly from 35% for both activities in Q3. Twenty-seven percent researched products on websites, an increase of 3 percentage points from Q1.
RESEARCH VIA MOBILE PHONE
Armed with coupons and sales promos, consumers continue to do research via their smartphones while in-store. A WSL Strategic Retail study cited by Internet Retailer showed that 56% look to their devices to compare prices in-store, while 46% continue to seek coupons or discounts and 53% use their photo feature to snap images of products.
Dubbed “downturn shoppers” by IRI to describe the way they approach grocery shopping in a prolonged downturn, these consumers increasingly view digital as an important tool, but rely on traditional offline methods more. Some 55% used coupons in Q4, and 49% checked newspaper circulars. Those numbers, already high, have been steady since Q3.
“What we are finding is that consumers are holding on to the old way of doing things—clipping coupons and circulars—but they are using the internet as an incremental way to save money,” said Susan Viamari, head of consumer insight market polls at SymphonyIRI.
A cornerstone to shoppers’ conservative behavior continues to be the deal. One-third of consumers purchased 50 percent or more of their baskets on deal in Q4. This trend holds true across income segments, including among the country’s wealthiest shoppers (those earning more than $100,000 annually), among whom 35 percent purchase at least 50 percent of their baskets on deal. Additionally, deal-seeking behavior is on the rise, another trend that is evidenced across income segments. Twenty-six percent of shoppers are buying more on deal today versus one year ago. Even among wealthier shoppers, 20 percent purchased more goods on deal versus one year ago.
Shoppers increasingly made brand decisions based on a wide range of traditional and new media influences throughout 2011. Among traditional media, use of in-store circulars increased 8 percentage points during the year and were cited as a heavy influencer of brand decisions for 44 percent of respondents in Q4. Coupons also gained steam, influencing brand choice for 55 percent of consumers in Q4 versus 48 percent in Q1. Use of newspaper circulars from home grew 6 points, from 43 percent in Q1 to 49 percent in Q4. Influence of new media is currently below that of the more traditional forms of communication and promotion, but these new means of reaching shoppers are growing quickly. For example, online advertising influence grew by 3 percentage points to 11 percent in just one quarter (Q3 vs. Q4). Recommendations from blogs or social networking sites also increased 3 points, from 5 percent to 8 percent during the year, as well.
The lesson for retailers and manufacturers facing this diversity of consumer tactics is “use media that complement each other,” SymphonyIRI’s Viamari advised. “Communicate with both traditional and digital media.”[Source: "SymphonyIRI Group MarketPulse survey." SymphonyIRI Group. 17 Jan. 2012. Web. 19 Jan. 2012.]