Mark Dolliver’s Takes: A Data Cocktail

Americans are drinking more, but not because more of them drink. In the latest of Gallup’s annual polls on the topic, 64 percent of adults said they drink alcoholic beverages, putting the number within a single percentage point of its average since 1939. But the people who do drink are knocking back more of it. They now consume a weekly average of 4.8 drinks, while the pre-2001 average was below four drinks. The chart gives more detail. What do drinkers drink? Beer has the biggest constituency when people are asked which sort of alcohol they have most often (cited by 40 percent), but wine isn’t far behind (34 percent). Despite the supposed vogue for cocktails with exotic names, the number of people saying liquor is their drink of choice (22 percent) has barely budged in recent years.

The undead video-rental shop

The video-rental store isn’t dead yet, despite the emergence of higher-tech alternatives. A poll by Rasmussen Reports finds 62 percent of adults who rent movies for home viewing do so at a video store. Online renting is strongest, predictably, among younger consumers, with 29 percent of the under-40s renting movies via the Internet. The poll found 50 percent of adults saying they rarely or never set foot in a movie theater. One percent said they go to the movies on a weekly basis, while 24 percent said they watch a rented movie at home that often.

Back to school (sorry, kids)

In a volatile economy, back-to-school spending remains a comfortingly reliable category. A survey fielded for the National Retail Federation (NRF) by BIGresearch finds families with school-age children planning to spend $563 on back-to-school merchandise, up 6.9 percent from last year. Research by Brand Keys anticipates a similar gain, with outlays seen rising 7 percent, to $590. Discount stores are expected to get the biggest share of back-to-school business, but Brand Keys expects the gas-price factor to help boost purchases via the Internet and catalogues. It forecasts that 35 percent of parents will shop online and 15 percent via catalogues.

A mother’s love for her TV set

Say you’re a married, college-educated mother age 25-45 with a household income of $75,000-plus and at least one kid younger than 12. How would you spend the little free time you get? Condé Nast’s Cookie magazine put the query to such mothers, and it found the highest number (74 percent) would opt to watch TV. Nearly as many would read (73 percent) or shop (66 percent), while fewer (55 percent) would have dinner and drinks with friends. The survey also found that 63 percent shop online. But some other online activities “are much less common, with only 27 percent instant messaging, 11 percent text messaging, 9 percent online social networking, 4 percent blogging and 3 percent participating in chat rooms.”

Global glumness

If it’s any consolation, Americans aren’t the only ones whose consumer confidence has been less than robust lately. A Global Consumer Confidence Index survey by the Nielsen Co. (Adweek’s parent company) found lackluster levels of confidence in countries around the world. The chart below shows consumers in North America are actually less inclined than their counterparts in other regions to feel this is a poor time to buy things. Elsewhere in the poll, people were asked what they’d do with their spare cash after covering essential living expenses. Alas, 23 percent of U.S. respondents said they don’t have any spare cash, putting them second only to Portugal (25 percent) and just ahead of Britain (21 percent) in this respect. The most popular use of spare cash is “put into savings” (cited by a global average of 43 percent of respondents), with “holiday/vacations” the runner-up (36 percent).