As consumer spending continues to improve, a new study from Boston Consulting Group says that in the U.S., progress continues to be lumpy and unpredictable. While Gen Y (especially women), dual-income couples with no kids, and financially secure empty-nesters are most likely to say they intend to spend more in the year ahead, there's still plenty of evidence that in many areas, Americans are determined to keep their belts extra-tight.
In fact, even as consumers around the world get bored with trading down, Americans are more enthusiastic -- with some 53% saying they are actively seeking to trade down in some purchases, up 5 percentage points from the same time last year. But even that is fairly uneven, according to the lengthy report, dubbed "A New World Order of Consumption: Consumers in a Turbulent Recovery."
While Americans are happy to trade down in such categories as paper products, fast food restaurants, cell phone contracts, cleaners, soft drinks and snack foods, they're reluctant to do so in furnishings for their homes, washers and dryers, or organic food.
The study, which surveyed 12,000 consumers in 14 countries, found that while buying products on sale continues to be America's favorite way to save money, spending more time in stores comparison-shopping is the fastest-growing method. And 61% of the U.S. respondents say they have increased their use of private-label products.
Perhaps more interesting than specific shopping behaviors, however, are the continued shifts in values. Cocooning continues to be a popular trend, and values like luxury and status have plunged in terms of consumer importance, while saving, stability and family are up sharply compared to a year ago.
In many ways, consumers are more upbeat. In the U.S., only 23% say they are currently worried about their own job security, down from 33% a year ago. And just 37% are worried about their financial security, down from 53% last year.
Overall, however, women are less positive, and since they control 64% of all household spending, the report notes, that's worrisome. While the anxiety gap has subsided a bit in the U.S. -- for example, 55% of U.S. women say they feel anxious about the future, compared with 54% of U.S. men -- American women do feel significantly more stressed and less financially secure.
Gen Y women, however, are far more upbeat: 21% of young single women in the U.S. plan to hike their spending in the year ahead, compared to 7% of men in that age group.
And the survey -- taken at the height of market turmoil due to trouble in Greece's economy but before the BP oil spill -- revealed significant consumer disdain for big business. In the U.S., 47% of respondents say they feel companies are profiting at the expense of consumers and employees -- up 11 percentage points from the fall of 2009.