What Will the Economy’s New ‘Normal’ Look Like in 2013?
Back in the mid-2000s, the U.S. consumer economy was undergoing a serious change. After decades of favoring low prices (even when they promised low quality), consumers began paying more for all sorts of premium features like single-serve packaging and pretty much anything “green” or “organic.” Then came the financial crisis and the drop in consumer demand.
Despite a worse-than-expected holiday season, the Federal Reserve forecast that G.D.P. growth would approach the historic average of about 3 percent in 2013. The economy may be coming back, but the question for many businesses is what the new “normal” looks like. Will shoppers spend as they did in the credit-bubble years? Or has the Great Recession scared them into prolonged stinginess? Early evidence suggests a mix. What is clear is that the big changes are just beginning.
Waste More, Want More
From the 1970s through the 1990s, the dominant retail trend was toward cheap and big: shoppers drove long distances to buy large boxes of everything they needed in bulk. Starting in the last decade, though, this began to change. And the success of products like Tide Pods (premeasured balls of detergent that made Procter & Gamble an estimated $500 million last year) suggest that the era of premium conveniences isn’t going anywhere.
Somewhat counterintuitively, this trend is directly related to the downturn, says John N. Frank, an analyst at Mintel, a market-research firm. Fearful of losing their jobs, millions of workers coped with the crisis by putting in more time at the office — ‘doing at least two people’s jobs,’ Frank says — even if it meant less time to shop for deals. Dollar General saw tremendous growth as a more convenient alternative to Sam’s Club. Duane Reade, now owned by Walgreen, is proving that no block in Manhattan should be without a drugstore that also carries basic grocery items at an upcharge. Frank says he expects that anxious, overtired workers will drive this trend well into this decade, too.