From the average consumer's perspective, these certainly are not the best of times. Pretty much everywhere you turn the economic news is pretty grim; consumers are faced with rising costs in nearly all directions: at the gas pump, the grocery store checkout, healthcare and home energy statements, prices continue to rise. In the real estate market, home values are declining. We're converting food to fuel for our cars in an effort to be less dependent on foreign oil and fossil fuels in general, but which comes with the unintended consequence of raising food prices.
It is only natural to assume, of course, that with a bleak economy consumers must be cutting back and making trade-offs. While consumers have described to us over the years that they will be purchasing less food overall in tight economic times, they have also said they will not sacrifice quality for price; the quality of that food will remain high in order to preserve truly satisfying and enjoyable experiences. In short, consumers will not compromise their values (e.g., health, wellness, sustainability, etc.).
There is a long and enduring trend in American culture that whenever watershed moments appear to be upon us, both consumers and experts alike feel the need to draw context around the moment by pontificating about: a) what is happening, b) why or how their behavior is changing and c) what all of this means.
The unfortunate reality is that all of this haranguing usually has little to nothing to do with actual, real world behavior simply because nobody ever takes the time necessary to carefully study that behavior. It is much easier for us all - consumer and expert alike - to talk about the important implications of these sobering times as we continue to pump gas into our cars, shop for groceries and pretty much go on about our lives.
To those who predict major lifestyle changes associated with the rising cost of gasoline - increased carpooling, changing priorities, cancelled vacations, fewer trips to the store, etc. - we'd like to remind you the data always tells us: Consumers, when asked, will most often stress the dramatic impacts events, such as the rising price of gasoline or food, have on their lives; yet, the reality is that these singular events will not in and of themselves cause consumers to behave differently.
Today's events are not like the stock market crash of 1929, which is associated with the beginning of the Great Depression in the United States, where millions of people lost their jobs literally overnight. Because of this food was scarce; people did all they could just to survive. This was a critically important institutional shock that altered the nature of everyday life for generations to come - and, by extension, consumer habits. With the exception of World War II, this similar type of shock simply hasn't materialized for the American public since.
Today's consumers lead incredibly complex, frenetic, complicated lives. Because of rising food and gas prices consumers may feel differently. They may think differently. Heck, they may even feel a need to feel like they should behave or act differently. But at the end of the day, life for most consumers continues pretty much in remarkably the same manner as it did prior to the price hikes.
Full Story: http://www.hartman-group.com/hartbeat/2008-05-14