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Survey: 40% of consumers curb spending in midst of government shutdown

BY HBSDEALER Staff

A consumer survey conducted Oct. 10-13 by ORC International on behalf of ICSC and Goldman Sachs found that 40% of consumers have tightened their belts in the face of the federal government shutdown.

Of the demographically representative sample, lower-income households were more affected than their upper-income counterparts: Those with income of $35,000 or less were 15% more likely to curb spending than those making at least six figures.

Of the 40%, the majority (70%) said they were only scaling back "a little," with 13% making "considerable" reductions in spending.

"As Congressional leaders optimistically predict a budget deal may soon be reached, it is clear that the fallout of the past two-week impasse in Congress has affected consumers’ willingness and maybe their ability to spend," said Michael Niemira, VP research for ICSC. "Hopefully, if the end of the government shutdown truly is in sight, this is likely to restore consumer confidence quickly and well ahead of the holiday season."

A recent Gallup survey also found that consumer confidence had dipped to 2008 levels during the shutdown.

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Survey: Top retailer sites too slow

BY HBSDEALER Staff

The websites for the top 500 U.S. retailers are still too slow and continue to get slower – pages have slowed down 14% since summer 2013, and are 16% slower than fall 2012, according to a study by Radware. 

Radware’s quarterly “State of the Union” report measures and tracks the performance and page composition of the top 500 U.S. retail websites (as ranked by analytics firm Alexa.com) over a two-day period with the purpose of gaining ongoing visibility into the real-world performance of leading Ecommerce sites.    

Key findings from the “State of the Union: Ecommerce Page Speed & Web Performance, Fall 2013” include:

The trend toward bigger, slower pages continues. The median page took 8.56 seconds to load for first-time visitors, representing a 14% slowdown over the median of 7.48 seconds recorded three months ago (summer 2013).

The median page takes 5.3 seconds to become interactive. Sites have experienced a slowdown of 8% since summer 2013, when the median time to interact (TTI) was 4.9 seconds. Ideally, pages should be interactive in 3 seconds or less. (TTI is the point at which a page displays its primary interactive content (e.g., feature banners with functional call-to-action buttons.)

Three common design practices are failing users. Most sites made at least one of three critical mistakes in the design and presentation of their feature content: loading feature banners last; placing a call-to-action at the bottom of feature banners; and/or not implementing a call-to-action at all.

The adoption of performance best practices is inconsistent, even among leading sites. Among the top 100 sites, adoption of some best practices is nearing the saturation point, whereas others remain neglected.

Browser vendors are not keeping pace with page demands. Across all three major browsers, performance is trending downward as browser vendors struggle to keep pace with the demands of today’s large, complex, dynamic web pages.

“In just the last few years, web page speed has migrated from the fringe to center stage, emerging as not just a technology trend, but a hot-button business issue,” said Tammy Everts, web performance evangelist, Radware. “Numerous studies have found an irrefutable connection between load times and key performance indicators, such as conversion rates and revenue increases. Site owners need to understand that optimizing performance is much more nuanced than just pushing out faster pages to customers: It’s about understanding what users want from every page of your site, then fine-tuning those pages to ensure that critical content loads first instead of last. A site owner who neglects core-performance best practices is missing out on significant opportunities to make relatively easy performance gains.”

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Futures Co. describes slimmed-down mind-set

BY HBSDEALER Staff

The Home Improvement Research Institute’s (HIRI’s) Fall Conference kicked off Wednesday with an examination of the slimming-down mind-set of the American consumer.

J. Walker Smith, executive chairman of The Futures Co., said that "slimming down" can be best explained quickly by the phrase: "Live large, carry little." But the full story, according to Smith, the charismatic chronicler of consumer trends and HIRI-event regular, is far too complicated for a simple slogan. 

"A slimming down mind-set is defining the aspirational framework with which consumers are approaching the marketplace," Smith said.  

By way of further explanation, he backed up to 2006, when consumers were looking up to what they could buy and become. Fast forward to 2013, the idea is to look down at what to avoid.

During that shift, some positive developments have hit consumers. The birth rate has stabilized, after dropping during the downturn. Car sales are at pre-recession highs.

And the housing market is showing significant improvement, compared with the historic lows. 

But the downturn took its toll on consumer attitudes. Smith pointed to research that shows 59% of people in the middle class are concerned about falling out of the middle class. Also, 88% of respondents defined success as being debt free.

Times are changing, and quickly, he said. Research shows 59% of young people say they would rather have a low-paying job that they like than a high-paying job that they don’t like. And a related trend is that of "threshold earners," people who desire to earn just enough money to sustain a simple lifestyle.

"This type of thinking is now on the table," he said. 

More recently, dysfunctional government has emerged for the first time as the number one thing that people worry about. "The mess in Washington is on people’s minds," Smith said. "The shutdown is reinforcing in consumer minds as to why they need to bring this sliming-down mind-set with them into the future."

Frugality, meanwhile, is not an aspiration for the American consumer. "We like nice stuff," he said. "But we want to be able to get it without exposing ourselves to the kind of risks that we were obvious to, prior to the downturn."

Translating the analysis to practical takeaways for home improvement marketers, Smith said selling smaller projects, and selling them repeatedly, will be the key to engaging with the new consumer.

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