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Global Consumer Strategies for Saving Money
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Global Consumer Strategies for Saving Money

It was the rare household that didn’t change spending habits over the last 18 months. Faced with unemployment (or even the prospect of it), higher expenses and crushing debts, consumers around the globe used a number of tactics to stretch their money further to get the most bang for the buck.

The Nielsen Company conducted an online survey in March 2010 of more than 27,000 consumers in 55 markets from Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, North America and the Middle East/Africa (consisting of countries from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and South Africa) to get a better sense of the steps being taken to save money in view of uncertain economic conditions.

What’s more, while recovery has taken hold in some regions (Asia Pacific and Latin America in particular), in other regions it has been tentative. Regardless, one thing remains clear: habits picked up during the recession are likely to survive even after economic recovery is in full-swing.

Value Strategies Help Savvy Consumers Save

In addition to a shift toward private label products, global online survey respondents saved money on household expenses in a number of ways, including:

  • Buying items on sale (a 57% global average)
  • Using coupons (40%)
  • Shopping at value retailers (37%), such as supercenters and dollar stores
  • Purchasing value packs (35%)
  • Shopping close to home/work (25%)
  • Stocking up (22%)
  • Switching to cheaper health and beauty products (18%)
  • Purchasing smaller packs with a lower unit price (17%)

One in 10 consumers in the online study reported no belt-tightening practices in their household.

North Americans led the world in cost-cutting strategies and adopted a host of budget-shrinking tactics. Seven in ten respondents said they bought items on sale, which is 13% more than the global average. Both Asia Pacific (46%) and North American (59%) consumers indicated they presented coupons at a checkout, outstripping the 40% global average.

In the U.S. in particular, manufacturer coupon redemption hit record highs in 2009 after years of no growth or declining growth. Meanwhile, Canadians continued to shift spending to discount or value retailers—now accounting for over one-third of total grocery sales—as their neighbors to the south have done so over the past several years.  Whether prompted by high gas prices or environmental sensitivity, North American respondents were also the most likely to say they shop in stores close to home or the office.

Value packs and stock-up shopping trips were a popular option across regions, with consumers in Middle East/Africa/Pakistan and Europeans lagging slightly behind the global benchmark. Middle East/Africa/Pakistan consumers also had the lowest incidence of using coupons (11%), shopping on promotion (42%), patronizing value retailers (21%) or stocking up to save (12%). The use of coupons as a promotion tool is not a popular marketing method in the region. Additionally, the dearth of established retailers in the Middle East and Pakistan explains the low incidence of patronage.

Roughly one-quarter of Latin (23%) and North Americans (24%) said they sacrificed beauty at the budget altar by switching to cheaper health and beauty products. Asia Pacific and Middle East/Africa/Pakistan respondents were less likely than average to say they made such a switch to save money (15%).

Cash is King; Dining In Trend Heats Up

Consumers found other ways to cope with the cash crunch as well. While 19% of the regions admitted to using credit cards more often, North America at 10% and Europe at 11% were well off that global average pace. Further supporting the belt-tightening approach, 31% of North Americans and 30% of Latin Americans said they recorded less credit card utilization versus the prior year, while only 20% of Europeans did, despite a precarious economic picture.

Foregoing credit was just one consumer coping mechanism. Based on survey findings, restaurants in some countries must be hungry for clients, as more than half of survey respondents said they ate out of the home less often than the year before. The dine-in trend was particularly strong in Latin America, North America, Europe and the Middle East.

Roughly one-fourth of residents of Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Hong Kong and India indicated that they were eating out more often than usual. Asia Pacific as a whole showed a 5% higher rate for eating out than the global average.

Dining out cutbacks appear to correlate with private label purchase patterns, with five of the top 10 “dining out less often” countries also landing on the top 10 “purchased more private label” list: Greece, Ireland, Spain, Turkey and Portugal—countries that continue to face significant economic challenges even as other parts of the world resume growth.

Note about online survey methodology

While online survey methodology allows for tremendous scale and global reach, it provides the perspectives on the habits of existing Internet users, not total populations. Where noted, the Nielsen Global Online Survey data is supplemented with consumption data by market.