Prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, consumer confidence had proven surprisingly resilient in the face of mounting layoffs and falling profits, providing the last bulwark between the troubled economy and a full-fledged recession. But in the wake of the attacks, already-fragile consumer confidence has fallen dramatically, according to a recent survey conducted by Havas-owned public relations agency Magnet Communications.
Magnet says it found signs of what it calls “concerned shopper syndrome,” with nearly half of all respondents (42 percent) reporting concern over their personal financial situation, even though half of those (51 percent) individuals said that their household’s financial situation has not changed significantly in the past 12 months.
And while the original survey was completed before the tragic terrorist attacks, researchers conducted several follow-up questions with concerned consumers since then to ensure that the results are still valid. Not only were the results validated, but the number of consumers concerned about their past or future financial situation actually increased by more than 35 percent.
The most surprising finding, according to Magnet, is not just the overwhelming number of those people concerned about their past and future financial situation, but the great lengths people say they are willing to go to alter their shopping habits, ranging from shopping at discount stores to making the switch to generic brands.
“The survey is a clear signal to big and small brands alike that it’s a new marketing ballgame in this lingering climate of economic uncertainty, particularly as we approach the holiday shopping season,” says Kratz.
“From a marketing communications standpoint, companies selling groceries, wine, spirits, apparel or travel services need to be sensitive to the mindset of the fearful and worried consumer base,” adds Nancy Maffucci, executive vice president of the firm’s national consumer practice. “Showcasing a company’s responsiveness by offering greater value to help consumers stretch their dollars creates a win-win for both the buyer and the brand.”
The survey found 91 percent of concerned consumers said they would consider shopping at discount stores or other off-price retail outlets rather than department stores, which could have a dramatic impact on high-end retailers. Further, 85 percent said they were more likely to pay in cash than use a credit card. Major brands may be equally troubled to learn that 83 percent said they would be more likely to buy store or generic brands than those nationally advertised.
“A big segment of the buying public who are concerned say they plan to change their shopping habits,” Maffucci explains  “And they are saying it strongly, so companies with flexible marketing strategies that zero in on this concerned segment stand the best chance of retaining these customers and possibly even building marketshare despite the economy.”
Only 37 percent reported that they would shop online for better deals, indicating that the Internet is not top of mind for consumers when it comes to ways to save money while shopping.
Other findings:
  • Only 8 percent of concerned grocery shoppers said they would continue to buy nationally advertised brands at the same prices during tough financial times.
  • 51 percent would seek alternatives to current travel plans
59 percent of domestic beer and 73 percent of imported beer drinkers say they would stop buying beer if faced with personal economic difficulty.