retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Susan Viamari, editor of Times & Trends, SymphonyIRI Group, Inc.

Whether the neighborhood is blanketed in snow or flush with palm trees, the holiday season brings with it many universal things, including family, friends, festivities, and this year in particular, financial fear.

According to recent results from SymphonyIRI Group’s Holiday Shopping 2011 survey, 82 percent of respondents indicate that increased concern about the economy is negatively impacting holiday budgets. Clearly, a strong majority of consumers are shaken by the current instability of economic conditions, and they intend to tweak holiday habits as a result.

About half of consumers plan to spend similarly to last year when it comes to gift budgets, and about two-thirds expect to spend about the same on food and non-alcoholic beverages for holiday celebrations. However, consumers reined in their spending habits already last year, and many are now indicating that they’re bracing for another round of belt tightening, the result of so much fear and negativity when it comes to ongoing economic issues.

In fact, one in four consumers will trim back spending on holiday gifts this year, and slightly less, 16 percent, will reduce celebration-related food and beverage budgeting.

Coping Mechanisms, Often Online

For a majority of consumers, nearly 75 percent, gift-giving budgets will top out at $800 this year. But, most say they do not want to sacrifice gift giving entirely or minimize the fun and sentiment of the season. They’ll just be working a little harder to focus on value.

To get the most for their money, consumers are turning to the Internet to help with their money-saving strategies. Interesting findings from the survey include:

• 44 percent of consumers will use more coupons from retailer Web sites versus 54 percent, who will use about the same as last year

• 42 percent of consumers will use more coupons from manufacturer Web sites versus 54 percent, who will use about the same as last year

• 61 percent of consumers will use more coupons from group couponing Web sites versus 33 percent, who will use the same as last year

• 43 percent of consumers will compare products on the Internet more often (consumer forums, blogs, etc.) versus 54 percent, who will do the same comparison shopping as last year

Consumers Tightening Their Belts at the Holiday Table

During the past few years, consumers have been eating out less and cooking more at home. These behaviors are expected to continue on this path in the coming year. For holiday celebrations this season, 71 percent of consumers say they want to prepare the best meals possible, but they will be keeping a close eye on their food and beverage bills. Overall, 71 percent of consumers say they will spend the same on their holiday meals as they did last year, but 18 percent are tightening their belts a bit more and plan to spend less.

With affordability top of mind, consumers will still be leveraging some tried and true money-saving tactics in addition to turning to the Internet. For instance, 79 percent of consumers will be making their grocery purchase decisions before entering the store, 24 percent plan to buy more products in bulk this year than they have in the past, 37 percent will redeem more “reward points” for products, and 20 percent will rely more heavily on private label products.

So, where will consumers be shopping for their holiday meals? Grocery stores remain the most popular outlets for shopping and will attract 88 percent of shoppers. Forty-five percent of consumers say they will shop in club stores, 41 percent in mass merchandisers, 37 percent in supercenters, 8 percent in dollar stores and 7 percent in drug stores.

Overall, ‘tis the season to eat, drink, shop, spend and be merry. And, consumers expect to do so, though are tenuous about spending and thus making concerted efforts to make wise purchasing decisions. For CPG marketers, tapping into this more conservative, yet still festive, mindset means identifying critical trends and delivering with appropriate and appealing price points.
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