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Jennifer Marks

Will it stick?

April 15, 2009

Wal-Mart ceo Mike Duke told The Today Show this morning he thinks the recession will change consumer behavior for the long term.

Meantime, research from consultancy Retail Forward finds that while Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have altered their shopping habits, the Gen Y and Senior demographics mostly have not.

The biggest change consumers said they’ve made: eschewing impulse buys.

That’s easy to understand. You’ve got to think just about everybody has had at least one conversation with their spouse or loved ones about how they’ll get along without a job — and how they’re preparing for the possibility. Treating oneself doesn’t figure into that kind of plan.

But as the economy creeps out of recession, it’s hard to image consumers won’t feel they deserve a little something special here and there for all the belt-tightening and anxiety they’ve gone through.

I think those products are going to have to be truly special. When you consider the roster of things people have given up or foresworn — a new car, premium cable channels, full-package cellular service, dining out, vacation travel, redecorating — there are going to be a lot of industries contending for restoration consumer dollars.

And after the economy readjusts and rebalances, the amount of disposable income available to capture will probably be less than it was for the past 10-15 years.

The "I want it!" consumer has turned into the "Do I need it?" consumer. The question is whether the consumer stands pat or eventually turns into the "I deserve it" consumer.

I’m afraid it’s going to take some before we have the answer to that one.