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Goodbye to shop 'til you drop

Even when the economy recovers, retail experts don't expect consumers to go on a spree.

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By Parija B. Kavilanz, CNNMoney.com senior writer

How strong are the nation's 19 largest financial institutions?
  • All the major ones are fine
  • Most of them are fine, with a couple of exceptions
  • There are widespread problems in the system

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Frivolous spending, one of the hallmarks of America's consumer-driven economy, is on its way out, with budget shopping becoming the mantra for households.

April store sales results Thursday showed clearly how the recession is training consumers to embrace value at all levels - whether it is shopping for food at Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500), or buying clothes for your kids at a discount department store such as Ross Stores (ROST, Fortune 500) instead of at Macy's (M, Fortune 500).

Consumer psychology expert Paco Underhill believes this change in the "mindset" of the consumer will define the post-recession shopper.

"Our retail culture is in a major transition. Conspicuous consumption is now bad manners," he said. "Too many of us have spread ourselves far beyond our means. We can't do this anymore."

"Our closets are full, are houses are too big, we have too many cars," he said. "It's time to make some very wrenching changes."

Post-recession consumers will spend very carefully. Buying previously owned products, for instance, will lose its stigma.

Also, more consumers will feel comfortable buying stores' "private label" products versus higher-priced branded goods.

Luxury market expert Andrew Sacks, head of advertising firm AgencySacks, said even high-income shoppers will shop a little differently in the months ahead.

"Even for those whose jobs haven't been affected, they will be thinking about putting more money away. Everyone values their dollars more now," he said.

Not all high-income shoppers will trade down in prices, but they will be "more selective" with what they buy, focusing on quality rather than quantity, Sacks said.

Underhill, who's also CEO of retail-focused consulting firm Envirosell, said the recession -- whenever it ends -- will dramatically change not only the "shop at any cost" mentality of the American consumer but also retailers' approach to selling.

Retailers, he said, will have to adapt to a new reality in American consumerism by really selling the concept of "value."

Merchants will also have to focus on how they sell rather than "how much" they sell.

"I am 6' 4". I can walk into a Gap store and find just two pairs of pants that will fit me," Underhill said. "I don't think this makes any sense. Retailers have to become more sophisticated sellers."  To top of page

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