"We found much sharper differences by gender than we expected," says Steven Skinner, VP of consumer products for Miller Zell, an Atlanta-based retail consulting company, which conducted a recent survey. Among the changes are a much higher level of pre-planning and research, with 45% of women saying they are doing more online research than they have in the past, as well as enforcing greater levels of accountability from all family members. Women say they are now making more joint shopping decisions, and are two times more likely to do so in such "male" categories as furniture, home improvement and electronics.
"Women aren't just being more selective," he says, "they're being more disciplined. The idea of going to a store with $100 gift card, and spending more to get something bigger is gone--she's in the store, spends that $100, and leaves."
Among the most common changes: Eating in more often, with 68% saying they spend less at restaurants; changing channels, with 50% moving from premium grocery stores to discounters; and trading down, with 87% switching brands at the grocery store and a third buying private-label clothing.
One surprising finding from the study, fielded among 800 shoppers just before Christmas, is that the mood was bleakest among the most affluent. "It seems counterintuitive, but this group is so worried about job loss and their income that it's having a profound effect," he says, putting all luxury categories at risk. Right now, furniture and jewelry are the two most vulnerable categories.
To survive, retailers need to step up the value message they send to women shoppers, both in stores and in mass marketing efforts--especially those aimed at women and higher-end shoppers. And they should take a much more proactive role in education, making it easier for shoppers to learn about their products, and investing in training to make sales staff more knowledgeable, he says.
The good news? In every single age, gender and demographic category, respondents agreed that things will be much better in six months. "That tells us that people are more confident and optimistic about their future earnings than we've thought," Skinner says. "That's a very positive sign, and the silver lining in all of this."