SymphonyIRI: Consumers' economic outlook tied to political preference

CHICAGO — Slightly more than one-quarter of shoppers anticipate they will be financially better off a year from now, up from the 22% who held this view one year ago, SymphonyIRI Group reported Tuesday in its second annual EconoLink survey. And 21% believe their financial positions will be worse a year from now, down from the nearly one-third of consumers who held that opinion last year at this time. 

Those more confident in the economy appear to be pulling for President Barack Obama in the election race, while those less confident in the economy are leaning toward presidential candidate Mitt Romney. 

“Many shoppers believe their financial situations will be stronger next year, reflecting other SymphonyIRI surveys released this year,” stated Robert Tomei, president of consumer and shopper marketing at SymphonyIRI Group. “We anticipate, however, that many shoppers across all segments will continue to practice prudent shopping patterns, such as buying on deal, choosing store brands over national brands, and researching offers online. These foundational trends are not fleeting shopping behaviors and will have a profound impact on manufacturers and retailers for years to come.”

EconoLink groups shoppers into a series of unique profiles, including: 

  • Downtrodden: With a median annual income of $41,000, these shoppers are highly pessimistic about their financial situations and tend to shop at mass merchandisers, dollar and convenience stores;

  • Cautious and worried: These shoppers also have a bleak financial outlook, tend to shop at mass merchandisers and have a median income of $42,000;

  • Start-ups: Impacted by the recession but with a bright outlook, start-up shoppers have a median income of $44,000 and skew toward shopping at grocery, drug and convenience stores;

  • Optimistics: With a median income of $48,000, these shoppers favor supercenters, drug and convenience stores;

  • Carefree: A financially stable group, these shoppers earn a median income of $59,000 and skew toward shopping at club stores. They tend to be brand loyal; and

  • Savvy shoppers: Earning on average $81,000 and financially stable, savvy shoppers favor grocery, drug and mass merchandiser channels. They enjoy shopping and the quest for value.

The outlook for the future is generally positive among all EconoLink segments, with the most optimism exhibited by downtroddens, 16% of whom believe their financial situation will be stronger one year from now as compared with 11% who held this belief last year. Start-ups’ optimism doubled — 18% believe their financial situation will be better next year, as compared to just 9% last year. Carefrees also have a positive outlook (18% this year versus 11% last year).

However, trends that point to weaknesses in the recovery remain. Dollar spending via trade and coupons jumped to 31% from 27% in Q2 2012 over Q2 2011. Shoppers in some EconoLink segments are faring less well than others. Just 17% of savvy shoppers believe their financial situations are stronger today as compared to a year ago, versus 23% last year. Even optimistics are not as positive as their segment name indicates. Their beliefs about their financial situation this year versus last and for the future are statistically flat in this year’s survey when compared to last year’s results.

“Today’s shopping environment is extraordinarily complex, with shoppers sometimes reporting what appears to be inconsistent behavior,” stated Larry Levin, EVP and general manager of consumer and shopper insights at SymphonyIRI. “For example, cautious and worried shoppers, with the second-lowest median annual incomes and a bleak outlook, are not likely to actively collect coupons, use in-store circulars or pay attention to signs and displays in the store. Yet, they are among the most price-sensitive shopper segments. [Consumer packaged goods] and retail decision-makers should use EconoLink segmentation information as part of an ongoing strategy to not only better understand their shoppers’ attitudes and habits, but also to develop relevant communications and promotional programs to drive their shopping behavior.”

SymphonyIRI also fielded a companion survey to this year’s EconoLink study, asking shoppers about their voting plans for the 2012 presidential election. (The survey was conducted prior to the first presidential debate.)

When grouped by shopping segment, 60% of optimistics, 49% of savvy shoppers and 48% of start-ups generally have a more positive outlook on the economy and appear more likely to vote for President Obama. While 46% of downtroddens and 44% of cautious and worrieds, seem to favor former Massachusetts governor Romney. Those who remain undecided in these segments range from 11% to 19%, which appear to be a higher percentage than is widely reported in national polls.

When analyzed by candidate, 28% of optimistics, 17% of cautious and worried, and 16% of savvy shoppers plan to vote for Obama, while 26% of cautious and worrieds, 22% of downtroddens and 15% of optimistics plan to vote for Romney.