Turbulent economic times changing shopping behaviors: Unilever Study

Survival strategies include eating at home more and proactive planning of fewer shopping trips.

ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, NJ, August 14, 2008 – More than 30 percent of consumers are eating at home more and eating out less and 40 percent feel worse off than a year ago as shoppers continue to grapple with managing their budgets during uncertain economic times, according to a new study released today by Unilever [NYSE: UL, UN], one of the world's largest consumer products companies. The study, Winning Shoppers in Turbulent Times – A Unilever Trip Management Report, reveals how different demographic groups will change their shopping habits as belts continue to tighten during challenging economic times.

"Consumers are clearly feeling the effects of a perfect storm of challenging economic events such as the mortgage crisis, stock market volatility, and rising energy costs," said Lisa Klauser, Vice President of Consumer and Customer Solutions, Unilever U.S. "They are reacting by taking a new approach to shopping as our study found that quick trips to the grocery store are declining and major stock-up trips that allow consumers to replenish their cupboards for a long period of time are on the upswing."

Though consumers are closely watching their budgets, they don't want to give up on product quality. According to the study, a majority of consumers will continue to search out trusted brands across the store, with most shoppers stating that they would not switch to a private label to save money.

Further, consumers would like manufacturers and retailers to be creative in product packaging and sales approaches. There were several shopper preferences including introducing larger pack sizes, smaller package sizes at lower price points, and modestly reduced package sizes with the same price point. The least preferred option – the introduction of slightly lower quality items with the same price point.

"The reality is that consumers still need to feed their families during these tough times. The challenge for them is how to get it done in the most economical way possible without sacrificing quality," added Klauser.

Additional key study findings include:

  • To help balance their budgets, 55 percent, 50 percent, and 41 percent of survey respondents stated they would "reduce spending a lot" on entertainment, vacations, and clothing, respectively;
  • Shoppers are less willing to cut back their spending on home heating/cooling costs, household necessities (food/personal/home care items), housing (mortgage/rent, taxes, maintenance expenses), and healthcare – only 18 percent, 14 percent, 8 percent, and 7 percent, respectively, responded that they would reduce their spending significantly on these items;
  • The top two savings tactics used by shoppers include "only buy when it's on sale" and "use coupons whenever I buy this product";
  • The top dozen categories shoppers will not abandon include (all are above the 98 percent category level): anti-perspirant and deodorant; batteries; canned vegetables; fresh meat and seafood; hair care; household cleanser; laundry detergents; margarine; pain relievers and cold medicines; personal wash; pet food; and tissues and toilet paper;
  • The top five categories where shoppers would reduce their expenditure if the economy continues to struggle include: air fresheners; cookies; beer/wine; frozen dinners; and soda/pop.

The Unilever study was based on a proprietary survey of 47,031 Nielsen households and was conducted between March 14, 2008 and April 3, 2008. The survey was then compared with shopper behavior as measured among more than ten million shopping trips taken by consumers during the year ending Q1 2008. The survey is demographically and geographically representative of U.S. households.

Winning Shoppers in Turbulent Times builds on three other successful Unilever Trip Management studies including, Trip Management: The Next Big Thing (May 2005); Winning the Hispanic Shopping Trip (May 2006); and Boomer Shoppers: Following the Money (May 2007).

Unilever United States, Inc.

Unilever US, Inc
800 Sylvan Avenue
Englewood Cliffs
NJ 07632

+1 201 894 7760


Explore more on these topics:

Back to top


We're always looking to connect with those who share an interest in a sustainable future.


Get in touch with Unilever and specialist teams in our headquarters or find contacts around the world.

Contact us