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News - 23 January 2010

Consumer confidence up...but is it enough to keep on shopping?

More people feeling positive about their job prospects and personal finances helped consumer confidence increase for the third consecutive quarter, although confidence levels remain well below pre-recession highs.

But the latest Nielsen-British Retail Consortium (BRC) Consumer Confidence Survey also reveals half of respondents believe Britain will still be in recession by the end of 2010 and 70% are adjusting their spending to save money.

The level of personal debt is the biggest worry for most people over the next six months, closely followed by the economy and increasing utility bills.

Concerns about debt levels resulted in over two-thirds of people (69%) saying they put any spare cash they have, once they have covered their essential spending, into improving their personal finances. This is a combination of increasing savings (40%) and paying off debts (29%) – with the savings figure the highest recorded since this survey began in November 2004.

Justin Sargent, Managing Director, Nielsen Consumer UK commented, “We are in the foothills of what will be a slow climb out of recession. While people are feeling ever so slightly better about job prospects and personal finances, a definite air of caution prevails. The number of people saying they are saving is at the highest the consumer confidence survey has ever recorded and people remain very concerned about the amount of debt they are shouldering.

“Nielsen expects continued hardship in the leisure industry as more consumers cut back on going out. We also expect to see high street trading muted as the Christmas hangover and recent bad weather further dissuade consumers to spend on areas they were already cutting back on – home improvements, clothes and technology.”

Stephen Robertson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said, “We’re heading in the right direction. It’s encouraging to see consumer confidence improve steadily since the survey’s low last April. But we’ve still got a long way to go before confidence levels hit their pre-recession highs.

“Strong Christmas sales showed customers felt more confident about spending than they have for some time but is that improved mood permanent? Customers are cautious about how their own finances will shape up in 2010, with the impending General Election adding to the uncertainty.

“They now want to cut their costs. That means spending less on things such as new clothes, saving on utility bills and buying more supermarket discount goods.

“And big concerns about the amount of personal debt that’s been racked up have made them more committed to paying off debt and saving, than shopping.”

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