Price-conscious consumers do more online research

Despite some bright spots on the economic horizon, shopping remains more of a battle than a pleasure for financially skittish consumers. Some of them cope by using digital tactics to help save money.

A SymphonyIRI Group MarketPulse survey on how the economy affects behavior and attitudes when buying consumer products found that US consumers were more optimistic in Q4 over Q3 2011, but still relied on frugal habits developed during the recession.

For example, 39% of survey respondents downloaded coupons from manufacturer websites in Q4, while 37% downloaded coupons from retailer websites, up slightly from 35% for both activities in Q3. Twenty-seven percent researched products on websites, an increase of 3 percentage points from Q1.

Dubbed “downturn shoppers” by IRI to describe the way they approach grocery shopping in a prolonged downturn, these consumers increasingly view digital as an important tool, but rely on traditional offline methods more. Some 55% used coupons in Q4, and 49% checked newspaper circulars. Those numbers, already high, have been steady since Q3.

“What we are finding is that consumers are holding on to the old way of doing things—clipping coupons and circulars—but they are using the internet as an incremental way to save money,” said Susan Viamari, head of consumer insight market polls at SymphonyIRI.

Armed with coupons and sales promos, consumers continue to do research via their smartphones while in-store. A WSL Strategic Retail study cited by Internet Retailer showed that 56% look to their devices to compare prices in-store, while 46% continue to seek coupons or discounts and 53% use their photo feature to snap images of products.

The lesson for retailers and manufacturers facing this diversity of consumer tactics is “use media that complement each other,” SymphonyIRI’s Viamari advised. “Communicate with both traditional and digital media.”

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Check out today’s other article, “US Online Ad Spend to Close in on $40 Billion.”

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