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December 10, 2021

Will your recession shopping habits continue when it's done?

For the great bulk of this recession, downturn-shocked consumers have been tripping over themselves to broadcast their new, righteous shopping ways.

We’re not stupid, they muse in regret. We don’t need that $4 jug of Palmolive when the $2.50 store brand will do. We know this now. Just give us a chance. We’ve changed. We have changed!

Indeed, while the economic slump did force many customers into more responsible habits, the lingering question has always been, “Sure, but how long will that last?”

The ideal scenario would prove shoppers really have learned to conserve their cash, but come on – this is Canada. A toxic, waste-all consumer behaviour is more North American than credit card debt and crippling obesity.

We couldn’t come out for the better on this one, could we?

If you listen to a new McKinsey Quarterly report, maybe we have. According to the research firm’s data, 34 per cent of shoppers who switched to cheaper brands during the recession said they wouldn’t go back when it’s over.

Perhaps even more encouraging to our consumer growth, an impressive 41 per cent said that – while the premium brand is still preferred – they realized anything but the No Name product was “not worth the money.”

Now, this is great. Uplifting, even. But that question from above still lingers: how long will this pattern endure?

The sceptic in me sincerely believes, on the whole, most shoppers will go right back to more expensive name brands as quick as their bank accounts (or social perceptions) will allow.

But the McKinsey Quarterly data suggests our behaviour might be salvageable on a more modest scale.

Consider two products someone might skimp on in times of The Pennypinch: beer and cold medicine.

With the former, an item like beer is likely to fall into the “You get what you pay for” category; cheaper beer, generally, is worse tasting. According to the McKinsey Quarterly report, only 31 per cent of beer drinkers who switched to a less expensive brand said they enjoyed the outcome. This group is likely to revert to its pre-recession beer budget as soon as possible.

With cold medicine, though, the difference in satisfaction between a store brand and name brand is likely to be negligible; consumers, generally, would find the same result with either. What’s the McKinsey Quarterly survey suggest? That almost half (48 per cent) of consumers agree, and said their experience with cheaper cold medicine was “better than expected.” Sure seems like there’s a lesson there, no?

So what’s all this mean? I don’t know, nothing maybe. For my money, it appears the lasting effect this recession will have on consumer behaviour might not be as grand as we’ll let on.

Yet its lessons won’t be lost on every shopping arena, and maybe shifting customer philosophy on things as petty as cold medicine will be enough to hang our hats on in the long run.

What about everyone else out there? If this downturn has changed your shopping habits, do you – honestly, now – see them sticking that way for good?

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...