Consumers’ spending moods remain cautious

admin//December 29, 2009

Consumers’ spending moods remain cautious

admin//December 29, 2009

Shoppers plan to open their wallets slowly in response to any economic upswing, the International Council of Shopping Centers found in a recent survey.

Eighty percent of consumers reported cutting back over the last 12 months, but just 40 percent said they expect to increase their shopping when the economy improves, the council reported in its 2009 Shopping Habits Report: How the recession has impacted shopping habits.

More than three-quarters of shoppers reported that they have cut back in some way in the past 12 months. Over half reported cutting back on dining, movie theater attendance and salon-spa services, and 40 to 50 percent reported cutting back in most retail categories. Least affected are visits to grocery and discount stores, and the purchase of necessities.

Shoppers have been somewhat more likely to attribute their change in shopping behavior to precautionary measures and concerns in general rather than to economic reasons such as a job loss or wage reduction, the council said in the report.

More than 40 percent of consumers surveyed said they believe their financial situation will improve over the next 12 months, while 47 expect it to stay the same and just 11 percent expect their situation to worsen. Consumers aged 18 to 44 tend to be more optimistic than those 45 or older. The report does not address home equity specifically.

How will consumers’ shopping habits change when the economy swings upward? The survey found that shoppers were most likely to report expected increases in shopping in general, in department store visits and in discretionary purchases. Just 10 percent expected to increase their use of luxury or specialty apparel stores.

The International Council of Shopping Centers asked survey respondents: When the economy is on an upswing, do you expect any changes to your current shopping patterns in the following areas?

Nineteen percent said they expected to increase their number of shopping trips in general, and 16 percent plan to increase their visits to discount stores. Other expected increases were visits to department stores (18 percent), luxury stores (9 percent) and specialty apparel stores (11 percent). Twenty-two percent of respondents said they plan to increase their purchases of discretionary goods, 18 percent plan to increase their purchase of necessities and 16 percent plan to increase their use of coupons.

As for the 2009 holiday shopping season, the council predicted a moderate gain in sales from the rough year-earlier period. The economy is “fundamentally on the mend, even though there will be lingering pockets of weakness,” the council said in a forecast. Sales can pick up even when inventories have been reduced due to economic weakness, as occurred in 2001, the council said. Some retail capacity was reduced in the form of store closures – benefiting remaining retailers – though favorable pricing over a long period reduced the likelihood of a surge in “buy-for-yourself” shopping to take advantage of sudden discounts.