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The Strange Mood of Consumers This Thanksgiving

The Strange Mood of Consumers This Thanksgiving

We all know this economy has transformed the behavior of shoppers. They are avoiding restaurants, looking for deals, buying more private label, and choosing lesser cuts of meat.

Too often that storyline becomes one-dimensional because it lacks insight. A flood of research recently available from multiple sources drills deeper into the consumer mind-set just in time for the holidays. It explains where retail customers are willing to cut back, and where they aren't. It also outlines how they are coping, and points to the positives and negatives for supermarkets. Here are highlights worth noting:

  • Subdued holiday plans: Consumers are not only committed to toning down holiday season entertaining, but know how they will accomplish that. Some 48% plan to celebrate at home instead of at a restaurant, while 46% will have guests bring dishes to share, according to About 34% will host less elaborate gatherings, with 19% serving fewer dishes. Roughly 17% will not host a party this year, and 11% will reduce the number of party guests.

  • Extreme changes in behavior: Some are going further than merely paring down parties to save money. Parade magazine found that 21% of its readers are planting their own vegetable gardens. Another strategy is avoiding impulse purchases by steering clear of temptation. Some 47% of Parade's respondents are intentionally staying out of food stores except to buy staples.

  • Lines in the sand: There are certain things consumers won't change in their quest to save money. About a third of respondents to Parade's survey said they won't give up a balanced diet. Many consumers don't want to embrace cooking in a major way, according to NPD Group. That company's vice president, Harry Balzer, told SN recently that shoppers still want the convenience of prepared meals, and consequently are turning more to supermarket meal programs because of their relative value.

  • Trying to see the bright side: More consumers appear to be looking for silver linings, perhaps because it's Thanksgiving and they are gathering with family. Mona Doyle, president of The Consumer Network, recently took the pulse of consumers for her publication called “The Shopper Report.” Among comments she received: “Could be better, but definitely could be worse.” “My faith makes living in these times easier.” “We've lost our jobs but we do have our health.”

  • Pluses and minuses for supermarkets: Much of the recent consumer behavior continues to benefit supermarkets. Shoppers are bringing more meal preparation into the home. Some are more willing to splurge on specialty ingredients to bring the restaurant experience home, according to Mintel. But consumers quickly become frustrated in this environment if they suspect they are being ripped off. For example, the decline in fuel prices has made some impatient for a corresponding reduction in food prices, according to “The Shopper Report.”

The consumer's mind-set is more complex this holiday season, so retail strategies should be multi-dimensional. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your inner consumer!