Black Friday: How the new frugality affects what we buy

Cover of The recession swept across this country like a storm; hitting hard and wreaking noticeable damage. In response, a lot of Americans began making more responsible financial decisions, paid more attention to their savings and began consuming more consciously and cooperatively. John Gerzema and Michael D'Antonio's term for this is "spend shift."

As Black Friday casts its long shadow, it's an interesting time to discuss this new conscious consumerism.

Consumer expert John Gerzema (the Brand Bubble) and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Michael D'Antonio (Hershey) have teamed up on an optimistic, yet incredibly pragmatic overview of the changing face of consumer capitalism with their upcoming book, Spend Shift: How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution Is Changing the Way We Buy, Sell, and Live, (Oct. 19, 2010; Jossey-Bass).

The book originated with research Gerzema had begun compiling through his company's database, Brand Asset Valuator (750,000 people polled every quarter, spanning 17 years). In the data, he noticed a shift in consumer spending to be more aligned with consumer values. The data determined that 72% of all spending drives the Americans Gross Domestic Product (GDP) -- a mass amount of commerce and capitalism -- and, 55% of American consumers are shifting toward more conscious and cooperative consumption. Of this 55%, they aren't predominately radical frugalists or new, anti-materials, they aren't a fringe group at all. They are just as likely to be Republican or Democrat or independent, and equally as likely to live in the northeast or the southwest.

As American consumers throw off the materialistic layers that have defined them for decades, what we see are remnants of the past, a return to old-fashioned values such as hard work, optimism, self-reliance, practicality, thrift, community, honesty and kindness. The good news is that now that the recession is over, Americans have already returned to spending; even better is that Americans took away a significant lesson from the crisis, a reminder of the importance of mindful consumption.

As we approach the holiday spending season, and notably Black Friday, Americans' changing spending habits and their impact on the economy will certainly be under the microscope. Black Friday Predictions suggest some $450 billion dollars will be spent this year by American consumers. It will be interesting to see how the companies Gerzema and D'Antonio highlight in their book make out.

According to the spend-shift research, brands such as Whole Foods, Ford and Olive Garden scored highest with consumers on attributes like "socially responsible" and "down to earth." To get a well-rounded look at the phenomenon, Gerzema and D'Antonio not only spoke with consumers, but they also interviewed Fortune 500 business owners, start-up entrepreneurs and small business owners. The interviews prompted them to go back to the data where they found that people were starting to align their spending with their values.

"We spent lots of time talking to people [such as] Scott Monty of Ford, who discussed how he was using social media to connect with the community," Gerzema explained over the phone from his New York office. "There was also this strong interest in people trying to support Ford because they didn't take bailout money. We were curious about that. Because we heard it in Detroit, which you would expect, but then we heard it again in places like Dallas and Kansas City."

After hearing this, they went back into the data and surveys to find that 56% of Americas would not want to buy from brands that took bailout money. That's when they noticed a strong theme of self-reliance starting to emerge.

"People had been so hard hit by the recession that there had been this reappraisal in their lives-where people were saying there are more important things than excessive consumerism, and there is more to life than money," Gerzema said. "Yet at the same time, there are a lot of companies out there that didn't really get it, or understand the ordinary American household."

The return to core American values anchored the shift in spending. The data provided by Gerzema and D'Antonio's work determines that 55% of Americans are starting to rely on brands that remind them of their traditional values.

"There are these social moods you can piece (together) out of consumer behavior data," said Gerzema. "When people start to talk about how they spend their money, what emerges is that it's a form of power, a form of expression or a vote. You know, [they think] 'I do have some influence over companies, because it's my money, it's my wallet.'"

That means, consumers, you can take your wallet this holiday season and vote for the brands that resemble your ethical values. How will the way you buy, sell, and live effect your spending this Black Friday?
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