Saturday, May 21, 2011

Fewer Shopping Trips

With gasoline prices around $4 a gallon, U.S. consumers are making fewer shopping trips to save on gasoline. We have all heard stories about this, but a survey last week confirmed that it is a widespread reaction. From a Reuters report, “Americans buy less food as gas prices rise: survey”:

About a third of Americans surveyed by America's Research Group said they were making fewer trips to stores due to higher gas prices . . .

The survey also found that many shoppers are spending less on food. Previously, Walmart had said that many of its customers were making only one shopping trip per month.

Postponing and combining shopping trips makes good sense when fuel prices eat up a significant fraction of the shopping budget. If high fuel prices last through the summer or longer, as many expect, this could become a permanent feature of consumers’ shopping habits.

A shopper doesn’t just save fuel by shopping less often. The time saved may be even greater. If a weekly shopping trip takes 1.5 hours, a monthly shopping trip may take 2.5 hours, saving 4 hours a month. With consumers increasingly pressed for time, once we learn how to shop just once a month, it will be hard to find the time to go back to shopping once a week.

With fewer shopping trips, consumers have fewer chances to pick up impulse purchases. This is bad news for retailers, which depend on the high markup on impulse items to provide much of their profit.