Expert Advice

How America Shops (or not)

Victoria Wurdinger | July 10, 2011 | 6:20 PM

At the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual convention, held recently in New York, Wendy Liebmann, CEO of WSL Strategic Retail, NY, NY, presented her company’s most recent study, How America Shops 2008.

According to Liebmann, shoppers’ confusion is resulting in fewer weekly trips to stores and a lot of belt-tightening. The middle class is super-crunched, with its members now shopping like lower-income consumers. As a result, middle-market supermarkets and department stores are being squeezed: shoppers can get a lot more for less at big-box stores. Smaller, well-edited stores are easier to shop, which makes them popular, too.


Other findings from her report:

  • 60% of shoppers surveyed said they are going to cut back on the “little things.”  
  • 64% said it was important to them to get the lowest prices.
  • 60% said they would go farther to save money.
  • 56% said they would ask themselves, “Is this a smart use of my money?”
  • Redefined drug stores with better beauty brands and expanded services gained ground.
  • Fewer shopping trips caused narrow specialty stores like Starbucks to lose business.
  • When respondents who reported either spending more and spending less in a category were balanced out, only food (+34%) and pet supplies (+28%) showed significant gains. Discretionary categories with small gains included hair care (+6%), books (+6%), OTC (+5%) and skin care products (+4%). Women are spending less on cosmetics, perfume and fashion accessories: -4%, -14% and -19%, respectively. Most of the food gains are due to price increases.

The report also found that personal values, the earth and ethics are in the forefront of consumers’ minds. Findings: Consumers are comfortable with buying less and only what they can afford. Designer brands are out; “values” are hot. “Green” thinking rules and brand names are losing sales to similar, lower-priced items or ones with a story that connects. 


Evidence from How America Shops 2008 that indicates conspicuous consumption is over and “authenticity” is in…

  • 38% of respondents said they used to care about designer brands but don’t anymore.
  • 84% said they would give their clothes to charity before they would toss them.
  • 49% said they would spend more on healthier products.
  • 48% said they buy products that are good for the environment.
  • 35% want to shop in stores that support the causes they do.

And, in a related trend, consumers don’t trust hype:

  • 78% of respondents said they trusted themselves and their own research ability most.
  • 74% said they trusted recommendations from friends or relatives.
  • Just 22% said they trust sales employees, 21% said they trust store websites and only 20% said they trust manufacturer websites.
  • Celebrity spokespersons reaped the lowest trust level—just 10%.
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