Survey: Consumers still cutting back, just not on gas, pharmacy or grocery


TORONTO — That trip to the local restaurant is off the menu for consumers today, as are furnishings and electronics, Empathica reported on Thursday, citing its latest Consumer Insights Panel survey of more than 6,500 U.S. consumers. One-out-of-3 shoppers surveyed reported that the economy is still very much top of mind for them. But "need" items — gas, pharmacy and grocery — are not seeing declines in purchase intent compared to findings from this time the previous year, the report noted.

“The economy is affecting American consumers just as we expected with specific segments continuing to be challenged,” stated Gary Edwards, chief customer officer at Empathica. “The economy as a whole is still on the mend, and although we are starting to see an uptick in the job market, it doesn’t necessarily mean consumers are eager to spend. Uncertainty still remains among consumers with continued caution around spending on nonessentials.”

Survey results show that consumers are cutting the least on gas with nearly 9-out-of-10 consumers spending the same or more. When it comes to grocery, only 1-in-5 consumers reported a spending reduction versus 25% who expect to spend more. The survey also found that 1-in-4 consumers are cutting spending on pharmaceuticals, with 60% spending the same and 15% actually spending more.

Top segments where U.S. consumers are cutting spending include:

  1. Fine dining (71%);

  2. Furnishing (69%);

  3. Electronics (65%);

  4. Bars (64%);

  5. Airlines (62%);

  6. Hotels (61%);

  7. Clothing (58%);

  8. Department stores (55%);

  9. Casual dining (50%);

  10. Home improvement (49%);

  11. Convenience stores (45%);

  12. Quick service/fast food (42%);

  13. Pharmacy (25%);

  14. Supermarket/grocery (18%); and

  15. Gas stations (16%).

The survey revealed that the top two reasons consumers are cutting spending include concern about taking on more debt and having to pay more for basic housing and utility costs, so there is less money to spend on other things. In fact, consumers’ top three areas of concern were the economy (31%), debt (25%) and job security (19%).

Despite financial difficulty, consumers are more optimistic on their financial situation when looking ahead. Results show that 1-in-3 consumers think their financial situation will be much better or somewhat better. Nearly half of consumers between the ages of 18 and 24 years have a positive outlook on their financial situation. However, this optimism declines consistently as we look across each age range, with only 19% of those older than 65 years feeling the same as their grandchildren.

“It’s understandable that older generations are more reserved with their discretionary spending,” Edwards said. “They have experienced several bouts of economic instability throughout their lifetime, while younger generations are more optimistic, technologically savvy and interested in immediate satisfaction. These factors showcase why this generation is eager to spend more on goods that will enhance their quality of life in the short term without necessarily worrying about longer-term retirement needs.”

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