Coupons, bulk buying and organics will survive the recession

Don't expect the recession to make socially conscious shoppers less socially conscious. The good new is that they will continue to be locavores. The bad news for retailers, is that these shoppers - and most shoppers for that matter - will also be penny-pinching, buy store brands instead of designer brands, comparison shop online and use coupons for a long time to come.

But just how long will retail be dominated by frugal shoppers? How long will it take for shoppers to put the recession behind them and return to their more spendthrift ways?

An analysis by the consulting group, Retail Forward, says that it will take at least until the third quarter of 2010 for retail sales to reach the levels seen before their big drop last fall and resume growing at normal, pre-recession rates. But it could take as long as two years before shoppers really begin to ramp up spending.

Consumers won't just turn away from conspicuous consumption, says Lois Huff, senior VP of Retail Forward. "\But the consumer will increasingly become a more purposeful shopper, less willing to spend.

The recession has cut back on both excessive shopping and consumers' idealism. Although one-third of shoppers still say social responsibility is important, there are fewer shoppers willing to pay more for those socially responsible products, unless they see added value, according to Huff. They're willing to pay more if the product is locally produced (46 percent), energy-efficient (46 percent) or packaged to reduce waste (39 percent).

While monthly polls show a drop recently in the number of shoppers putting off purchases and buying only what they absolutely need, shopper are still clearly still looking for deals. The percentage of shoppers who say they are shopping for bulk items and using coupons is two percentage points below their popularity this time last year.

Huff also sees another trend. She says that rather than browse in a store, shoppers today seek out an item they need and will research online before they go to a store. This makes it harder to get customers to trade up to a more more expensive product, sell them additional items or rope them into impulse buys.

"The recovery will be more characterized by a need to close the deal with shoppers," says Huff. "That conversion will require making it worth their time and effort, as well as their money."

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