RETURN TO A NEW NORMAL: CONSUMERS SIX MONTHS LATER

Recession Impacts Personal Lives More Than Sept. 11

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Even though their world changed six months ago today, American consumers largely haven't.

Sept. 11 has had significant aftereffects,

Photo: AP
Shopper in an American flag bandanna looks for bargains in New York City.
but they appear to be mainly personal, marked by shifting priorities toward family and home and a greater appreciation for life. The predicted major consumer transformations have not materialized, and the wobbly economy appears to have had more of a direct impact on consumers' lives than a direct terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

Positive signs
Consumers are still spending, and retail is recovering. Stocks last week seesawed to their highest level since summer. Auto sales, powered by incentives, generally held up well, but 2002 sales are spotty. January unemployment dipped 0.2% to 5.6%, its first decline since last May, although the Conference Board's consumer confidence index fell last month after climbing since December.

For now, uber-shoppers continue to be enthusiastic, though frivolity is tempered and bargains key. Fear of flying is subsiding. Religious-service attendance is down from its peak. While attention to relatives is still keen, time spent with them continues

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to lag for fear layoffs could leave people spending too much quality time at home.

Experts, however, caution not to write off seismic shifts.

Long-term effects
"Just because there aren't a lot of short-term effects doesn't mean there won't be a lot of long-term effects," said Grant McCracken, a cultural anthropologist and marketing professor at Montreal's McGill University.

It's difficult to separate the lingering effects of terror attacks from effects of recession. "The uncertainty after the terrorist attacks -- that's all faded away, and the [worry] that's left is the economy," said Graceann Bennett, executive vice president and director of brand planning at Havas Advertising's Arnold Worldwide, Boston.

One prediction that appears to have materialized is nesting. Martha Stewart, chairman-CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, said e-mail traffic on marthastewart.com rose and readership of Martha Stewart Living jumped 50% as a direct result of Sept. 11. "People want to know more about the art of homekeeping," she said.

Lifestyle choices
Few people are cutting back on everyday niceties as the economy tries to snap back. "Even though we are in a recession, we've gotten accustomed to nice things and living a certain lifestyle. We may cut back, but not as radically as maybe we should," Ms. Bennett said.

While economic uncertainty prevents consumers from spending with abandon, there is a shift in attitude about materialism, said Zyman Marketing Group founder Sergio Zyman, former chief marketing officer at Coca-Cola Co.

Mr. Zyman said: "People are saying 'Is all this stuff really worth it? Do I really want to have two jobs and try to go for the big BMW ...? Do I want to [place] the kids with a nanny to capitalize on my stock options?'"

Mercedes Cardona, Alice Z. Cuneo and Jean Halliday contributed to this report.

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