Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Consumer mood clues (#1)...

Maybe we actually "dropped".
There is a growing belief, even among luminaries in the retailing industry, that the orgy of consumption fuelled by cheap credit, which has driven the retailing boom of the past decade or two, is at an end, and that a new age of frugality is dawning. This is not just because credit is no longer so readily available (and may never be so again). Consumers may actually be reappraising their lives, and realising that “shopping ‘til you drop” is imprudent, and perhaps even vulgar.
In a valedictory address to a convention of American retailers in New York last week, Lee Scott, the departing boss of Wal-Mart, said that surveys of Wal-Mart’s customers had found they had given up eating out, going to movies and shopping, and that “they talked about how good they felt about doing it.” Of course, we have heard this sort of thing before, only for the addictive thrill of splashing cash to save the day for retailing. But this time may be different. [More]

It's early to make predictions, but what if a drastic reduction of consumption actually rewards us psychologically with good feelings?  I could see this happening if your social circle all moved in this direction.  If nothing else we have discovered the power of our homeys to make us happy.
New research shows that happiness isn’t just an individual phenomenon; we can catch happiness from friends and family members like an emotional virus. When just one person in a group becomes happy, researchers were able to measure a three-degree spread of that person’s cheer. In other words, our moods can brighten thanks to someone we haven’t even met.
“Especially in the United States, we’re very used to thinking of ourselves as rugged individuals. But even very small things that happen to us have big impacts on dozens and hundreds of other people,” says James Fowler, a University of California, San Diego, political scientist, who co-authored the study with Harvard University medical sociologist Nicholas Christakis. “The things that we do and the things that we feel are going to reverberate throughout our social network.”[More]
Considering how many of us will have friends and family going through difficult financial circumstances, we may scale back in sympathy, or simply because going shopping isn't the activity of choice as it used to be.
At the same time, the "there-but-for-the-grace-of-God" refrain will be running through more fortunate minds, I'm sure.  Consumption will be doubly hard to restart under such social constraints, so may be our enormous dependence on consumer spending will back off to levels similar to European countries, where government and business provide much more of the spending.
The government certainly seems willing to step up.

No comments: