The UK's retailers and FMCG manufacturers now need to renew their focus on in-store and online customer experiences, according to a survey of 29,000 European shoppers by IRI, which found that consumers are adopting a much more 'professional' approach to shopping, thanks to harder economic times. This article is copyright 2013 The Best Customer Guide.

The study, entitled 'Shopping in Tough Times', found that the consumer's overall shopping experience, in addition to the price and the availability of promotions, are now so important to shoppers that one in three are prepared to change stores in order to find a faster, easier and cheaper shopping experience.

Despite a 'back to basics' approach that is leading shoppers to seek out offers, 65% will buy more private label products (compared to 64% in Europe) and 69% will spend more time planning their shopping (73% in Europe)in order to avoid non-essential purchases. 86% of shoppers (73% in Europe) still want to find some enjoyment. This is leading many shoppers to add at least one or two items of luxury to their baskets - such as special flavour coffee cups or fresh berries for a special cake.

Most shoppers (69%) said they are highly influenced in their choice of store by the shopping experience and 70% by the price offer and promotion on products available in store. Some 61% say that the assortment of their favourite products is important in store selection. In the past year 39% of UK shoppers have changed their main grocery store.

At the same time, 41% of shoppers in the UK and Europe believe that they will be worse off over the coming months. This pessimism about the future is forcing shoppers to pay more attention to price. More than79% of shoppers (77% in Europe) felt that prices had increased significantly over the last year. As a result they are avoiding non-essential purchases (73% in Europe and 70% in the UK) shopping less frequently (50% across Europe and 43% in the UK) and spending less on each shopping trip (62% across Europe compared to 52% in the UK.)

As 80% of shoppers across Europe pay more attention to promotions in order to meet the rising cost of their grocery shopping baskets - with 76% in the UK - visiting retailers' websites has become a leading source of information about them for 27% of shoppers in the UK. In most other European countries paper store leaflets are the biggest source, with 69% of shoppers in Europe relying on them for information.

However, when looking for best deals, shoppers are using multiple sources of information such as advertising, price comparison websites, and retailers' own websites. Less than one quarter of shoppers in the UK are visiting brands websites or consumer review websites. Social media was not even cited as an influence in the planning process.

"Manufacturers must invest time and money to gain visibility on these influential retail platforms," said Laura Volponi, international shopper insights director for IRI. "They must also evaluate whether their current digital marketing activities are contributing to sales. Shoppers can no longer be defined by whether they are poor or wealthy. All shoppers are looking for the best value mix of price and quality and our research proves that traditional marketing tactics still play a hugely important role. We are still in an economic crisis that continues to force shoppers to adapt."

The manufacturers that succeed now, according to Volponi, will be those that respond to the situation with affordable innovation and solutions that help shoppers to save money (i.e. bigger pack formats) and to avoid waste (i.e. smaller packs formats) depending on categories' spending. Recognising that shoppers have a real need to cut purchases but are still looking for luxury, it is essential for brands and retailers to gain their trust in this respect, and to engage with them.