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Greater consumer confidence not loosening purse strings

CHICAGO — Consumers’ confidence in their personal finances is returning to levels seen in first quarter 2011, according to SymphonyIRI Group’s latest MarketPulse survey, released Friday. But while confidence remains high, the same consumers remain frugal.

“Americans have certainly been on an economic roller coaster ride for the past few years, so it is no surprise to anyone that they will not forgo their frugal ways even though they may feel a bit more confident about their bank accounts,” stated Susan Viamari, editor of Times & Trends at SymphonyIRI. “They are opening their wallets a bit more these days, but they are still making lists and clipping coupons, so the key for [consumer packaged goods] marketers is to demonstrate the value of their products to consumers.”

Consumers’ confidence about their personal financial situations is rebounding in first quarter 2012, after slipping in the second and third quarters of 2011 and inching up slightly at the end of last year. Today, 19% of consumers feel their financial position has improved during the past year; 40% feel it has remained unchanged; and 41% feel it has deteriorated. While these are not glowing statistics, it is the most optimistic outlook seen since last year, SymphonyIRI noted.

According to the MarketPulse survey:

  • 28% of consumers in first quarter 2012 expect improvement in their personal finances during the coming year versus 33% in first quarter 2011;

  • 46% feel the same about their personal finances today versus one year ago; and

  • 26% of consumers in first quarter 2012 expect their personal finances will deteriorate during the coming year versus 20% in first quarter 2011.

Regarding shopping behavior:

  • 71% of shoppers in first quarter 2012 are still making shopping lists at home versus 67% in first quarter 2011;

  • 56% of shoppers in first quarter 2012 are choosing stores based on lower prices offered versus 52% in first quarter 2011; and

  • 62% of shoppers in first quarter 2012 look at store circulars before entering the store versus 56% in first quarter 2011.

In addition, consumers leveraged a wide variety of tools in first quarter 2012 to find the best value:

  • Retail websites: 7%

  • Internet searches: 9%

  • Couponing: 42%

  • Retail circulars: 49%