How to win shoppers in turbulent times

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 20th August 2008

Supermarket aisle - shopping trolley

A study by Unilever, one of the world’s leading consumer products companies, reveals how different demographic groups in America will change their shopping habits as belts continue to tighten during challenging economic times.

More than 30 per cent of consumers are eating at home more and eating out less and 40 per cent feel worse off than a year ago as shoppers continue to grapple with managing their budgets during uncertain economic times, according to the new study – ‘Winning Shoppers in Turbulent Times – A Unilever Trip Management Report’.

“Consumers are clearly feeling the effects of a perfect storm of challenging economic events such as the mortgage crisis, stock market volatility, and rising energy costs,” said Lisa Klauser, Vice President of Consumer and Customer Solutions, Unilever U.S. “They are reacting by taking a new approach to shopping as our study found that quick trips to the grocery store are declining and major stock-up trips that allow consumers to replenish their cupboards for a long period of time are on the upswing.”

Though consumers are closely watching their budgets, they don’t want to give up on product quality. According to the study, a majority of consumers will continue to search out trusted brands across the store, with most shoppers stating that they would not switch to a private label to save money.

Further, consumers would like manufacturers and retailers to be creative in product packaging and sales approaches. There were several shopper preferences including introducing larger pack sizes, smaller package sizes at lower price points, and modestly reduced package sizes with the same price point. The study found that the least preferred option was the introduction of slightly lower quality items with the same price point.

“The reality is that consumers still need to feed their families during these tough times. The challenge for them is how to get it done in the most economical way possible without sacrificing quality,” Ms Klauser added.

The study established that the top dozen categories shoppers would not abandon included (all are above the 98 per cent category level): canned vegetables; fresh meat and seafood; margarine and pet food.

Soft drinks, biscuits, beer/wine and frozen dinners were discovered to be among the five most likely categories to witness a cutback in spending, according to the study.

Additional key study findings included:

* To help balance their budgets, 55 percent, 50 percent, and 41 percent of survey respondents stated they would “reduce spending a lot” on entertainment, vacations, and clothing, respectively

* Shoppers are less willing to cut back their spending on home heating/cooling costs, household necessities (food/personal/home care items), housing (mortgage/rent, taxes, maintenance expenses), and healthcare – only 18 percent, 14 percent, 8 percent, and 7 percent, respectively, responded that they would reduce their spending significantly on these items

* The top two savings tactics used by shoppers include “only buy when it’s on sale” and “use coupons whenever I buy this product”;

#The Unilever study was based on a survey of 47,031 Nielsen households and was considered to be demographically and geographically representative of U.S. households.