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Study Shows Wealthy Shopping Cautiously

Affluent customers were making numerous concessions to the economic downturn, from using coupons to being "more practical" in their purchases.

Affluent consumers are being thriftier and are more concerned about U.S. economic recovery than health care reform, according to a new study.

This story first appeared in the September 2, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The report by BIGresearch of Columbus, Ohio, based on responses from over 4,000 people last month, showed consumers with household incomes of at least $100,000 or more were making numerous concessions to the economic downturn and were growing impatient with their elected representatives.

“The data is showing that the recession is affecting everyone, regardless of income,” said Pam Goodfellow, senior analyst at BIGresearch. “It’s become more and more chic to save money, and [the affluent] talk about coupons and sales at the country club now.”

Just as many people who were raised during the Great Depression remained thrifty. “Today’s consumers will remember this time, retain some of their shopping strategies and spend accordingly,” Goodfellow predicted.

Among consumers with household incomes of $150,000 or above, 49.5 percent described themselves as being “more practical in their purchases” compared with 31.5 percent of those surveyed two years ago, and 44.2 percent said they were more budget-conscious, up from 25.1 percent in August 2007.

The percentage of respondents saying they only bought apparel on sale moved up slightly, to 15 percent from 13.7 percent, but those saying they made greater use of coupons more than doubled, to 30.8 percent from 15.1 percent. Those who acknowledged they were increasing their purchases of store brand and generic products more than tripled, to 20.1 percent from 6.6 percent two years ago.

Apparel purchasing was more affected among those in the $100,000-to-$149,000 household income category, with 21.4 percent indicating they were only buying clothes on sale, compared with 15.7 percent in August 2007. Forty-seven percent said they were more practical in their purchases, up from 38.5 percent, and 42.6 percent indicated they were more budget-conscious, versus 33.4 percent.

Increased use of coupons was indicated by 29.1 percent of the respondents in the $100,000-to-$149,000 bracket, up from 23.8 percent, and greater reliance on store brand and generic products reached 23.1 percent, up from 15.5 percent two years ago.

More than one-third of the respondents in the $100,000-to-$149,000 bracket — 34 percent — expect to spend less on holiday gifts this year, versus 27.6 percent of the wealthier sample. Just 2.1 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively, expect to spend more.

Asked if they were less wealthy than a year ago, more than half — 54.8 percent — of those in the $100,000-to-$149,000 category answered in the affirmative versus 49.3 percent in the $150,000-and-up group. Twenty-two percent of the higher-income group said they felt wealthier than a year ago versus 11.6 percent of the $100,000-to-$149,000 bracket.

Those sentiments notwithstanding, both groups felt better about the economy than a month or a year ago. Among those with incomes of $150,000 or higher, 38.6 percent felt confident or very confident about the economy last month, versus 29.6 percent in July and 33.7 percent last August. In the $100,0000-to-$149,000 bracket, 35.8 percent felt confident or very confident, up from 27.5 percent in July and 26.9 percent in August 2008.

Despite the more positive attitude about economic conditions, the respondents’ feelings about their personal wealth were reflected in negative attitudes about Washington. Almost three-quarters — 74.9 percent — of consumers in the $100,000-to-$149,000 group said voters have lost their voice in the federal government, versus 66.2 percent of the higher-income group. More than 80 percent of each group — 82.8 percent of the higher income and 83.4 percent of other category — think Congress and President Obama should fix the economy before tackling health care reform. More than half in each group — 56.6 percent and 61.1 percent, respectively — suggested they have doubts about the government’s ability to effectively deal with health care.

Asked about “cap and trade” legislation, 28.3 percent of the higher-income group said it will eliminate jobs and 30.2 percent in the other income category said it will hurt the economy.