Mintel Foresees More Shopper Belt-Tightening

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Black Friday is one of the big shopping days of the year, but this isn't just any year. A new survey study by Chicago retail consultancy Mintel suggests that the day after Thanksgiving will see the results of widespread consumer belt-tightening.

Roughly 63% of respondents to Mintel's online survey of some 2,000 adults said they plan to spend less than they did last year, and almost no one claims to be planning to spend more. This comes on top of similar claims to budget tightening last year. Mintel says it found similar results last year, with respondents in 2008 saying they were holding off on spending.

The U.S. Census Bureau said in September that median household income fell 3.6% between 2007 and 2008, erasing gains made over economic growth leading up to the current recession.

Mintel notes that the monthly Consumer Confidence Index from The Conference Board has been heading up since February, but that high and increasing unemployment has kept the Index near record lows reached last year -- meaning, per Mintel, that consumer frugality will continue.



Mintel's study also found that tighter spending cut across gender, age, household income, race and ethnicity, and households with and without children. But there were some differences: women are more likely than men to be motivated to tighten further, and their roles as family shopper and financial manager have become particularly important in the current recession. Hispanics are budgeting more tightly than others, per Mintel.

As for the post-Thanksgiving retail bellwether, the firm says one reason consumers are likely to spend less on Friday is that they are expecting even better deals on Monday, metaphorically. "Coming off a year of fluctuating stocks, rising unemployment and a persistent recession, it's not surprising that shoppers still haven't loosened their purse strings," said Chris Haack, senior analyst at Mintel, in a statement. "People remember last year's deep holiday discounts, so despite retailers saying they won't slash prices as severely this year, many shoppers might hold off on hitting the stores."

Most survey respondents said they always look for sales before shopping non-sale items, especially in department stores. Sixty-four percent of survey respondents said when they are in department stores they look at sale items first; 53% said they do so when shopping at mass merchandisers and at discount apparel stores. Four in 10 shoppers go on to say they spend a lot of time looking for clothing sales and shop around to get the lowest price.

On the positive side, Haack said, consumers may shop in force on Friday to look for one-day deals, sales and coupons. "So Black Friday specials might be just what the doctor ordered to get them spending," he said. "Strict budgeting practices are nowhere near as popular as more opportunistic money-saving tactics." Mintel's study found that just 19% of people budget for clothing, but over half say they actively watch for sales in newspaper ads, use coupons or seek out sale products advertised in store flyers.

"We're all bargain hunters in today's economy," said Haack. "People want to feel like they're getting a deal, and they've basically come to expect sales. It's up to merchandisers to create marketing specials that meet bottom lines, while making shoppers think they're stealing away with a great find."

Mintel asked survey respondents where they would spend their "extra" money after bills and necessities. Thirteen percent said holiday shopping and one in four said they'd buy "small extras for family members." Nine percent said they'd spend "extra" money on jewelry, clothing or personal items for themselves.

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