How Will We Spend Once the Economy Bounces Back?

How Will We Spend Once the Economy Bounces Back?
Scott Lachut, PSFK Labs
  • 3 march 2009

Anthropologist and author Grant McCracken looks at the state of our economy and asks the question “What will the current downturn mean to consumers?” He then offers up various models to explain the possible lasting impacts this trip through the recession looking glass might have on our spending habits. While the prevailing theory seems to be that once the economy bounces back, we’ll all return to our previous patterns of purchasing, what if we don’t, what will things look like then?

As we’ve written about before, the brain’s response to the decision of whether or not to buy already functions much like the pleasure/pain principle so it’s not hard to imagine that a long term change in our habits might tip the scales further toward the side of saving and hardwire us to react differently once the money starts flowing again. But this is only one alternative and as we can see across McCracken’s variations, the quantitative effects aren’t always so black and white.

Within those gray areas, McCracken explores scenarios where we sacrifice one luxury in favor of another more important one or justify the things we buy through other offsetting acts like shopping at Costco, for example. That being said, McCracken admits we’ve only recently entered these woods, so ultimately it may be too early to tell. He explains:

In sum, consumer spending may look very like a tide, falling in every category in exact proportion to the loss of disposable income and credit.  Or consumers may manage their retreat less evenly, working trade-offs to protect some categories over others.  These prospects will become clearer when the ethnographic data is forthcoming.

Grant McCracken: Consumers in a Downturn: A New Consumer Habit

[image via Nielsen]

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