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Consumers Intensify Their Vow to 'Save More, Spend Less'

Economic Grief and Frustration With Government Have Reached Record Levels in the West, According to BCG's Latest Global Consumer Sentiment Survey

BOSTON, MA -- (Marketwire) -- 05/14/12 -- The vast majority of U.S. and European consumers say they are feeling insecure, anxious, and strapped for cash. Their concerns in many markets are higher than a year ago and the highest they've been in a decade, according to a new global survey by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

Among the key findings from BCG's eleventh annual Consumer Sentiment Survey, conducted in April and covering more than 15,000 consumers in 16 countries:

  • Consumers blame the government for the crisis
  • Feelings of financial insecurity are high and getting higher in most markets
  • Pessimism about the speed of economic recovery is rampant
  • One in four people, on average, in the U.S. and Europe is worried about losing his or her job
  • Few believe their children will live a better life -- except in China
  • Values such as saving money and staying healthy have skyrocketed over the past two years, while the willingness to splurge for luxury has plunged
  • China is a relative bright spot, with consumers feeling more optimistic about the future than their Western counterparts

(For an analysis of responses by country, see accompanying exhibits.)

"If you take the world from the perspective of the middle-class citizen in the U.S. and Western Europe, we are still lurching from crisis to crisis," said Michael J. Silverstein, a BCG senior partner and the author of influential books on consumer behavior, including Trading Up, Treasure Hunt, and Women Want More. "Americans, in particular, are anxious about their future, their jobs, and their lack of savings."

Respondents in Europe cited continuing turmoil and government failure to deal with root causes as major concerns. "But conditions vary from region to region," explained Catherine Roche, a BCG partner who has overseen the survey for the past five years. "Respondents in Germany and Switzerland were relatively positive about spending and least likely to change their behavior as a result of the crisis, whereas respondents in Greece, Italy, and Spain said they are being forced to change their spending habits drastically."

It's a different story in China, however. "Chinese consumers have optimism, energy, and ambition. They say their world will be bright over the next decade," said Silverstein, a BCG Fellow who is coauthoring a book on emerging-market consumers, due out in the fall.

"China and India's globalizing economies are paving the way for millions of formerly poor consumers to enter the middle class. Carefully designed luxury products that reflect rising status will take a disproportionate share of income."

BCG singles out a number of strategies that will be key for competing in this new reality. These include:

  • Build products with technical, functional, and emotional benefits. "Consumers will give up their hard-earned discretionary dollars for products that deliver. The roaring sales of iPhones are one of the best examples," noted Silverstein.

  • Anticipate a sentiment hangover. "Even as the worldwide recession slowly winds down, consumers whose trust and income growth are threatened will continue to spend very cautiously for some time to come," predicted Roche, who helps direct BCG's Center for Customer and Consumer Insight.

To request a summary of the survey findings or an interview with one of the partners involved, please contact Eric Gregoire at +1 617 850 3783 or [email protected].

The findings will be incorporated into future BCG publications at

Survey Methodology
BCG conducted its 11th annual Consumer Sentiment Survey in April of 2012. The survey was deployed in the following 16 countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, the U.S., and seven European nations -- France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and the U.K. BCG reached out to at least 1,400 consumers in every country and up to 2,500 in India. More than 15,000 consumers responded in total.

About The Boston Consulting Group
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a global management consulting firm and the world's leading advisor on business strategy. We partner with clients from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors in all regions to identify their highest-value opportunities, address their most critical challenges, and transform their enterprises. Our customized approach combines deep insight into the dynamics of companies and markets with close collaboration at all levels of the client organization. This ensures that our clients achieve sustainable competitive advantage, build more capable organizations, and secure lasting results. Founded in 1963, BCG is a private company with 77 offices in 42 countries. For more information, please visit

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