The recession has made it necessary for consumers to rethink and adjust their shopping patterns, which has resulted in a more strategic, informed - and even coldly calculating - approach to the 'shopping game' that has traditionally been driven by impulse, advertising responsiveness, and the fundamental attractiveness of brands, according to a joint study by Deloitte and Harrison Group. This article is copyright 2010 The Best Customer Guide.

The study, entitled 'The 2010 American Pantry Study: The New Rules of the Shopping Game', found that 92% of the consumers surveyed have changed their grocery shopping behaviour during the past two years.

In particular, 89% said they have become more resourceful while 84% say they are more precise when they shop.

And, while this new shopping approach is generally based on spending less, approximately two out of three (65%) people do not feel as thought they are sacrificing much by doing so. In fact, 79% reported feeling smarter about the way they shop versus two years ago.

Moreover, consumers have embraced a persistent recessionary mindset, as 93% surveyed said they will remain cautious and keep spending at their current level, even if the economy improves.

"We continue to witness consumers creating a whole new rule book and skill set for shopping that's based on value, not boasting of brands," said Pat Conroy, vice chairman and Deloitte's consumer products practice leader in the United States. "Our analysis concludes that personal gratification and a desire to feel smart about what consumers are putting in their shopping carts are trumping brand satisfaction, and that price-consciousness, value-orientation and bargain-hunting will remain prevalent for years to come."

To play the new game of shopping, consumers now tend to plan resourcefully and often follow their 'shopping game plan' precisely. The study identified four distinct shopper decision strategies, embodied by four segments of consumers, each reflecting their own attitudes and resourcefulness:

  1. Super Savers
    These consumers manage their resourcefulness at the cash register, hunting for and taking pleasure in savvy price management through extensive coupon collection;
  2. Sacrificers
    These consumers manage resourcefulness at the shelf, selecting among competing products on the basis of unit price, shopping more store brands and eliminating convenience shopping;
  3. Planners
    These consumers address resourcefulness through pantry management where they plan out meals, accept bulk pack discounts and set fixed spending limits;
  4. Spectators
    These consumers are the most loyal to national brands and were the least affected by the recession, but they still strive to be resourceful. Their pursuit of value still allows room for specialty goods, but they learn how to save by taking advantage of in-store discounts.

The study noted that three of these shopper segments (Super Savers, Planners and Spectators, which account for some 80% of shoppers overall) have little intention of returning to their old shopping practices when the economy picks up again. In fact, they see the changes they have made as having led to emotional, as well as practical, rewards and they do not believe they have made unacceptable trade-offs in the marketplace.

Sacrificers, on the other hand, are not as pleased with the changes they have had to make, particularly when it comes to the adoption of store brands, and are more likely to return to their old shopping habits as financial conditions improve.

"The extent and duration of the recession has given people the motivation to learn and adapt new strategies," said Dr Jim Taylor, Harrison Group's vice chairman and director of syndicated research. "Consumers are using more discount strategies, such as coupons and store incentives, and are consulting with their family about which brands really matter to the family's sense of well-being and where family members will trade price for brands. It's not disloyalty to brands, as such - it's actually loyalty to family needs. As a result, people are shopping more stores, looking more carefully at the ingredients, cooking more from scratch and substituting store brands. Family gratification has replaced product satisfaction as the key goal for many shoppers."

Today's resourceful shoppers have an ever-evolving set of tools at their disposal, along with the insight to know how to use them effectively. They view their ability to mix coupons while taking advantage of multiple channels, discounts and store competitions as being essential to getting the most value for their money.

The study also found that loyalty cards have become very important to shoppers, with 84% reporting having at least one, and 65% describing them as an "essential" or "very important" money-saving method. In addition, 44% of consumers surveyed are now using loyalty cards in grocery stores every time they shop.

According to consumers surveyed, coupons are another popular tool with 67% of people increasing their coupon usage and finding them across a variety of media outlets including: newspapers (59%), mail (54%), store (53%) and online (41%).

Watching store fliers has also become somewhat of an American pastime and a key strategic approach for consumers' to meeting their objective. There is an increasing preference for shopping only for sale items with nearly half (48%) putting off a purchase of a product they wanted because it was not on sale.

In addition to delaying a purchase until the "right deal" comes along, consumers are also considering different brands. According to the survey, three out of four (75%) people are more open to trying private label and store brands than two years ago.

Consumers apparently don't believe they are sacrificing anything when buying store brands, with 85% saying they have found several brands that are just as good as national brands. In fact, 80% of those surveyed believed that most store brands are manufactured by the traditional national brands.

The report's executive summary and 'fast facts' sheet have been made available for free download from Deloitte's web site - click here (PDF documents; no registration needed).