Things Mean A Lot
New Value Challenges
In the aftershock of T-day, more consumers are:
- Feeling risk
averse and behaving accordingly
- Worried about
tough times ahead
- Thinking about
getting back to basics
- Valuing home
time and meals at home
- Shopping and
spending for altruistic reasons
- Using comfort
foods and chemicals (wine, beer, booze, herbals and pills) to feel
extra levels of stress and stress related problems like high blood
- Postponing personal
and family air travel
- Planning to go
ahead with home repairs and improvements
a passion of patriotism they've only read about before
- Feeling kinship
with New Yorkers and Washingtonians
- Feeling more
tired and actually sleeping more because they aren't sleeping well
- Looking inward
and talking about values
- Connecting and
reconnecting with friends and neighbors
- Buying and flying
flags, drinking coffee, and making and baking and doing and eating
American hings like baseball and apple pies, meat loaf, chicken soup,
macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, spaghetti and meatballs, cookies
- Thinking globally
as well as nationally and locally
- Trying to help
survivor families as a way of mourning, connecting, appreciating and
- Expecting to
defer frivolous purchases
- Seeing police
and firefighters - and some political leaders - as actual heroes.
- Hugging harder,
and more often, and more people.
- Looking more
people in the eye
As everyone and everything gets back to a new kind of normal, some consumers
are pulling back while others are reaching out to friends and family
as well as order and efficiency. The level of aftershocks varies greatly.
Even within the same household, the impact ranges from "I don't
let it bother me" to nightmares and intermittent weeping.
People mourn and
adapt to loss in different ways and along different time lines. In some
families, daughters are taking the terror in stride while sons are weeping
on mom's and/or dad's shoulders. In other families, it's the daughters,
or moms, aunts, uncles or nanas that are struggling. Most families are
sympathetic to those who have been hardest hit by the terrorism. It's
as though everyone understands that no one is exempt from this particular
- For some shoppers
(and employees), stress levels are high and energy is low.
- Many shoppers
(and some stores) have lost their sparkle.
- Stores that routinely
irritate shoppers (see irritant list below) will lose out to stores
that run smoother operations.
A recent incident
observed in a Philadelphia supermarket is a case in point: Hearing than
a missing special was really out of stock and not just somewhere else
in the store, a shopper looked more sad than angry. She said "Gee,"
stood still for a few moments, then walked out of the store with a weight
in her step that didn't come from grocery bags. This shopper was probably
low on frustration tolerance, a psychological cousin to lowered physical
resistance to infection. In recent years, exceeded frustration tolerance
has been expressed in road rage and related acts of violence. While
we're in mourning for our own lost sense of safety, frustration is triggering
depression instead of violence. (Since violence almost certainly begets
violence, we can only hope that reduced media violence lowers the level
of violence altogether.)
THINGS MEAN A LOT
In today's scheme of things, the shopping frustrations on the list below
are extremely minor and easy to dismiss. At the same time, they are
widespread enough to bother lots of shoppers and directly influence
their choice of stores to shop and stores to avoid whenever possible.
stacked too high at the top of this list has nothing to do with little
old ladies who can't reach up or the September 11 tragedy involving
very tall towers. We wondered enough about both to check the demographics
of the response and the dates of survey returns. What we found was that
younger shoppers were almost as irritated by high stacks of merchandise
as older shoppers and responses on questionnaires completed before T-day
(September 11) were no different on this item than those completed later.
High stacks are
- They slow down
shoppers who are trying to get through the store as quickly as they
- They are also
perceived as dangerous. While irritation or frustration seems more
salient than danger, it's the combination of danger and irritating
impedance that puts the high stacks on the top of this chart.
- Reaching for
the top, or shifting merchandise to get to particular item(s) takes
time and ingenuity or help from a rarely available employee.
TOP TEN SHOPPING
Percent of shoppers saying they are very
or somewhat frustrated by:
stacked too high
in check out
of stock on adv. Items
and coupons restricted to multiples or largest sizes
to find merchandise
new about Americans' impatience with checkout delays, except that more
consumers are telling us that delays are easier to tolerate in small
neighborhood stores where they are likely to know another customer or
some of the cashiers.
During storms and
similar emergencies, shoppers accept out of stocks on advertised and/or
regular items as things that can't be helped. At other times, shoppers
who are busy or depressed find ad item outs close to intolerable and
talk about avoiding stores to avoid the experience.
Tighter coupon restrictions have been generating complaints all year.
Now, many consumers who had cut back on coupon use are using the economic
downturn as a reason to pay more attention to coupons and feeling irritated
when they find that using coupons pays much less than they remember.
The add-on list of frustrations that follows covers some shopper
irritations that are somewhat less widespread but still heavyweight
in terms of numbers. Forty percent of our shoppers are (still) very
frustrated by missing and wrong shelf prices and price marketing. Charging
more than the advertised price has been cut in half in terms of the
percentage of shoppers who find it a major irritant. But hostile and
edgy employees appear on our list of frustrations for the first time-with
more than a third of our shoppers marking it a major frustration and
more than half acknowledging that it is a current frustration. It's
one more reason that stores that are chosen as good places to work are
making money and have real reasons to brag.
Percent of shoppers saying they are
very or somewhat frustrated by:
delays for telephone help
more than the advertised price
lack of good service
and edgy employees
Before T-day, about thirty percent of our shoppers said they expected
to cut back on some spending because of layoffs and the economy.
In the aftermath
of T-day, most all of the shoppers who talked with us expect to keep
up basic spending even if they don't feel like it. But about twenty
percent talked about deferring travel and rethinking some luxury purchases.
to keep my spending--as normal as possible--for two reasons--one to
bring a sense of normalcy back to my life and two--not to allow terrorists
to invade my life any further than they already have. I expect the economy
to rally--I will invest, spend, donate and volunteer in support of my
country and it's people."
do my normal amount of spending but will stock up on certain things
like canned food. I was already in a pull back from spending phase and
will continue this."
doing whatever we can to help. As far as spending is concerned, I will
spend in order to give to the families of the victims, but for my own
pleasure. I have no desire to spend right now. I'll buy what I have
to, but not anything I don't have to have"
to continue with plans made before the event such as replacing sliding
doors and windows in my condo at the shore and other services. However,
I do not plan to travel by plane in the near future. MY holiday shopping
will be "as usual." I just bought some technology stock and
some defense effort stock. I have great faith in our system and our
"I am continuing
to spend as normal. I must admit I feel like I want to hoard my money
back, but really what good is money going to do me if something really
big happens? We are involved in the stock market and yes we have "lost"
a lot recently but things will turn around, maybe not next week or next
month, but eventually."
on going on as usual-financially. I hope the rest of us follow suit."
admit that I just cancelled a vacation I was planning for next month,
not so much because of a fear of flying or hijacking or even money.
It was mostly fear of a war breaking out. Otherwise, we are continuing
as usual - not curbing our spending. What's different is that we are
more aware of our personal safety and are hugging each other a little
more tightly and never miss an opportunity to say 'I love you'".
to keep up my spending patterns. It is important that we do not let
'them' disrupt our way of life too much. It seems to me that is what
the back of my mind, high ticket spending would be foolish right now.
Too many uncertainties. I know this will not help the current economy
but struggle is ok. As we need things i.e. the car is unrepairable,
etc., those things will be replaced. But
feel good spending is on hold. Besides,
more material things won't help any of us feel good right now anyway.
We've all had the opportunity to consider the people in our lives and
the fact that they are more important than possessions."
NEW VALUE CHALLENGES
We usually report on perceptions of price value - what American consumers
perceive they are getting in return for what they are spending. They
haven't forgotten price value and don't want to forget about it. They
are still concerned about drug prices and less than happy about meat
prices. But right now, many are thinking more about personal and social
values. Worries about safety and the newly coined "homeland"
security are sharing talk-time with worries about American values: our
chief executives' salaries; our corporate greed; our endless appetite
for designer clothes and luxury cars and oversized homes and fattening
foods. Many of our consumers see the terrorism as a horrible wake-up
call for consumer and business introspection and for understanding the
values of those who hate us.
want justice for the terrorists, but hope for wisdom and understanding
on our part as well. They want to understand what it is about us that
our enemies see as so hateful. They want to use the crisis as an opportunity
for growth as individuals and for rethinking their roles as consumers
and civilized people.
Many middle class
consumers are worried about the punishment that many businesses are
taking (and the beating they themselves have taken in the market). But
like some economists and business leaders, they are also worried about
returning to business as usual too fast: Business Week
did an October 1st cover story on Rethinking The Economy that looks
at dealing with defense, the financial system, and the social safety
net. Consumer rethinking is naturally different. They are asking if
there has been too much emphasis on the short-term bottom line and too
little on people and the environment and society as a whole.
business leaders I say: Take care of your people, then, as you rebuild
(and you must), do it with an eye on the impact your business has on
our interconnected web of life: Does it pollute? Does it exploit other
people? Women? Does it discriminate in whom it hires or promotes? Will
it damage our health? At the end of the day, are you proud of your product
and of the people who work for you?"
about corporate greed but we are guilty as consumers of consuming too
much too thoughtlessly. Spending seems patriotic right now, but spending
on luxuries seems wrong as well as risky."
long been spending on ourselves as individuals instead of us collectively
as one nation. The bigger SUV, the newest Nintendo, the latest designer
clothes. When President Bush announced the tax cut, I thought, "Keep
my $300 and spend it wisely to ensure our safety and security."
That fancy car is useless if you can't park it safely on your streets.
I know that the USA is indeed the best country on this earth and we
will get through this. My husband and I talked about what we should
do in this time of crisis and uncertainty to protect our future. We
are not changing a thing. We will spend as we have. If there is a difficult
time for us as citizens, we will get through this. Without freedom,
without security, without truth, without compassion----there is no meaning
in mere money."
that once the continuous news coverage subsides that we don't look at
the situation as just one small click on the remote control before we
go back to our usual diet of sit-coms and home shopping shows. Will
America actually find "reality TV" worth watching now? You
don't get more real than what has happened to thousands in this last
week! God Bless America!"
summary, we have been gratified by our consumers' courage in the face
of fear and their love of country, freedom, and their fellow human beings.
Consumer Network, Inc., PO Box 42753, Philadelphia, PA 19101. 215/235-2400.
Email comments to ShopperReport@cs.com
or to Mona@MonaDoyle.com.