Magazine article Marketing

The Miserable Life of the Careful Consumer

Magazine article Marketing

The Miserable Life of the Careful Consumer

Article excerpt

Consumers are worried and fear losing their jobs - and it won't stop post-recession

Consumers are racked by fear of unemployment, fear which pervades every aspect of their lives, and which keeps them from spending even when they have the cash. This is the overwhelming finding from our research into how the recession affects ordinary people and their families.

Research consultancy BJM ran four discussion groups. They went to West Cheshunt in the South to speak to men from social class C2D and women from BC1. Then they travelled north to Sheffield to speak to BC1 men and C2D women. All the participants were aged between 25 and 49 years. All, except women who chose not to work, were in employment. There was a mix of owner occupiers and tenants, single, married and cohabiting, some with children, some without.

Talking about recession generates powerful feelings: frustration, helplessness, cynicism and a real sense of "us and them". The overriding feeling is one of caution, fuelled by fear of losing one's job.

Social class made no difference to the replies. Even people who think themselves relatively fortunate are caught up in the cycle of caution. "Since I've got this new job we haven't started spending yet, but we're starting to look that way. You tighten your belt - pull everything in," said one middle class northern male.

Some respondents have recent personal experience of redundancy. Many have friends and family who have lost their jobs. One West Cheshunt woman spoke for many respondents when she complained, "you're all the time thinking, well you know, could we take this on? Will I get made redundant?"

Finding a new job is believed to be very difficult. The only jobs around do not inspire confidence: "You go down to the Job Centre and the money they're offering is silly. How can people survive on it?" Man, West Cheshunt. Even people in employment once considered safe are falling prey.

Fear and caution hit different kinds of spending in different ways. in our discussion of credit, fear translates into rage. Banks, building societies and retailers all come in for their share.

"Everyone was encouraged to buy on credit, get yourself up to your ears in debt," Sheffield woman.

Consumers tell us they have had their fingers burnt and they'll be careful to stay out of debt in future. They will save up for things they want, and they'll save and save again to make sure that next time recession strikes they'll be ready for it.

For some, saving just isn't an option. If they have any money left at the end of the week it goes towards paying off debts. But pensions, sacrosanct across the board, are sacrificed only at times of dire despair.

Children represent another recession-free zone. Parents are trying to protect their children from the cuts. "The young children, they all have a computer," says one woman in the South.

Some people are actively trying to keep temptation at bay. "I try to keep out of Safeway's. If I go I know I'll go right mad," says a Sheffield woman.

Some purchases have gone completely - biscuits, sweets, crisps and many toiletries: "I just have one moisturiser now and it does every job." They are shopping around for cheaper brands and, reluctantly, own-label: "Even Gateway non-brand things I tend to get - I don't want to," Sheffield woman. …

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