Maybe Demand Isn’t So Pent Up

As the economic downturn has persisted, marketers have comforted themselves with the thought that a lot of pent-up demand must be accumulating. But a survey issued this month by Deloitte and the Harrison Group gives reason to wonder whether this reservoir of demand actually exists.

From a marketer’s point of view, one of the poll’s findings is particularly alarming in this regard: 65 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “Even though I am spending less on products now, it doesn’t feel like I’m sacrificing that much.”

Moreover, many get positive satisfaction from their careful spending. Seventy-nine percent endorsed the statement, “I feel a lot smarter now about the way I shop vs. two years ago.” There’s even an air of sport about econ-omizing: 81 percent agreed that “It’s fun to see how much money I can save by using coupons or my shopper loyalty card.”

People who share such sentiments likely aren’t longing to return to freer-spending ways once an economic recovery signals that it’s safe to do so. That’s surely true of the 44 percent who agreed that “I can’t believe how wasteful I used to be when I shopped.” The chart indicates some shifts in consumers’ approach to purchasing.

Attitudes toward private-label goods offer a telling example of consumers’ sense that spending less needn’t mean settling for less. Just one-third of the respondents endorsed the statement, “I often feel that I am sacrificing when I purchase a store brand instead of a national brand.” This is unsurprising when one notes that many people think the store brand and the national brand are the same stuff: 80 percent subscribed to the statement, “I believe that most store brands are manufactured by the traditional national brands.”

It’s not that the economy has made people indifferent to brands. Rather, it has made them more discriminating about brands. Seventy-five percent of respondents to the survey (fielded in April) agreed that “Going through these economic times has caused me to realize which brands I care about and which ones are less important to me.”