Pulse Report: Does Quality Spur Spending?

New York–During the recession, consumers traded down to less expensive brands–and discovered they liked them. Now that things are turning around, they’re not necessarily trading back up to better quality. Such is the result of a WSL Strategic Retail How America Shops The PULSE of Shopping Life spending report.

Spending for quality used to be something to brag about, but quality was replaced in the ‘80s by disposable everything and cheap chic. Today, post-recession, consumers are more price-conscious than they have been in years, and on a macro level, commitment to quality is split:

• 48% of shoppers will pay more for products that they feel are high quality. (This goes up only 8 points among the affluent.)

• 46% agree purchasing more expensive, high-quality items saves money in the long run.

• Most consumers believe you get what you pay for — only 25% feel less expensive brands are as high quality as more expensive brands.

• However, 38% agree that they consider purchasing lower quality products more now than they used to.

Commitment to quality varies by product category, according to the report. Overall, Health and Beauty products rank higher than Food and Beverages. Vacations, Home, Pet products, Clothes for Work or Clothes for Casual all rank mid-tier in the 30% to 40% range.

So what’s up with quality? Either consumers don’t believe quality is good enough to be worth paying more for or there is a lot out there that is “good enough.” Maybe they don’t need the best. In other words, the gap between good-better-best is narrow.

We saw some of this in the How America Shops in Crisis reports we published last year. In order to get through the recession, shoppers traded down to less expensive brands, and discovered that they liked them.

This shopper mindset toward quality makes it more of a challenge to justify “premium” pricing to penny-wise shoppers. That a product is “better quality” won’t work for most shoppers in most categories. To justify “worth paying more” the gap must be greater, and the level of real differentiation must be more substantial.

In conclusion: quality will need to be romanced and reinforced with practical benefits.

WSL Strategic Retail, which this year marks 23 years in business, launched its How America Shops® studies in 1989, to chart the evolution of American consumer shopping habits and attitudes. Founded by Wendy Liebmann, WSL Strategic Retail is a consulting company offering global retailers and manufacturers strategic solutions to marketing problems through the application of proprietary tools, including: up-to-the-minute understanding of shoppers, knowledge of global trending, exclusive access to retail decision makers and ideation techniques. Contact WSL Strategic Retail at 212-924-7780 or visit www.WSLStrategicRetail.com.

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