Survey: U.S. shoppers trade down - but not on all items

September 22, 2008
Written by Anne D'Innocenzio, The Associated Press
It may be a tough economy, but female shoppers are more apt to buy cheaper over-the-counter cough syrup to save money than to scrimp on food for Fido.

According to a new poll of female consumers to be featured in the November issue of ShopSmart, a publication from Consumer Reports, shoppers are opting for cheaper brands across many product categories including over-the-counter medications, eggs and milk.

But they're more reluctant to switch to less-expensive pet food as well as cosmetics, personal care items and toilet paper.

"People are trying to save money, but they are being selective about it," said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart.

The survey, based on a telephone poll of about 1,000 women conducted from June 26-June 29, found that 68 per cent of them were willing to switch to less-expensive brands of over-the-counter medications, while 67 per cent said they would do the same for both eggs and milk. But only 29 per cent said they would change their brand of pet food. Furthermore, only 30 per cent said they would switch to lower-price labels of cosmetics, while 48 per cent would do the same for personal care items; 49 per cent of women surveyed said they would be willing to trade to lower-price toilet paper.

The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

Overall, 29 percent of respondents said that they're buying more generic or store brands; in households with children, that figure is 37 per cent.

The survey also found that when it comes to major appliances and electronics, female shoppers were less willing to pay for premium brands.

"They're shopping around," said Freeman. "Brands are holding less sway over our pocketbooks."

The survey found that only 18 per cent of those polled said they always buy the same brand of electronics, while 23 per cent said they always buy the same brand of major appliances.

That was much lower than the 48 per cent for personal care items and 32 per cent for groceries and canned goods, she said. Freeman said that shoppers are probably more willing to buy a less-expensive stereo or laundry machine than such items as tissues because of the opportunity to save a lot more money.

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