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Digital River Survey Finds Consumers Navigating Uncertain Economy with Future Optimism—But Using Different Methods


Digital River has released findings from its most recent consumer survey aimed at helping brands navigate emerging technologies and changing consumer expectations. The survey data was collected from 3,000 total respondents equally spread across the US, UK, and Germany.

Consumer Concern Is Growing in the Here and Now

In response to widespread uncertainty and mixed messages, consumers are concerned about the current economic state and their own finances. Fewer consumers feel financially comfortable today than they did in 2022.

Over half (55%) of consumers report unease about the current state of their country’s economy, with the US (58%) and the UK (57%) outpacing Germany (50%).

This has unsurprisingly resulted in heightened financial stress for 54% of shoppers across geographies, with women (61%) more likely to feel the budget squeeze than men (46%).

When asked to classify their current financial situations, respondents made it evident that they were less comfortable than they had been in 2022. Almost half of consumers say they are getting by (49%), while 31% say they are struggling, and just 17% are financially comfortable.

Which of the following best describes your current financial situation? (All Respondents)

Financially Comfortable Getting By Struggling
2024 2022 2024 2022 2024 2022
US 19% 39% 43% 34% 33% 25%
UK 17% 47% 50% 35% 31% 17%
Germany 15% 55% 54% 27% 29% 17%

 

When asked about their greatest points of concern, consumers expressed that discretionary budgets are evaporating due to rising costs of housing (42%) and necessities such as food (40%). This has also adversely affected their ability to save.

Over the last 6 months, consumers’ spending has increased the most in the following areas: food / groceries (60%), utilities (52%), and housing / rent (48%). Housing costs are a particular concern for those in Germany (53%) compared to consumers in the US (38%) and UK (34%).

Despite Concerns, Shoppers See Improvement on the Horizon

Despite rising costs and stress levels, two in five consumers also anticipate improvement in their financial situations over the next 12 months, expressing more optimism about their future outlooks today compared to 2022. This indicates a belief, at least from some, that the worst of the economic downturn has passed.

Over the last 12 months, 24% of consumers say their financial situation has gotten better, while 42% say it has gotten worse. Although many are still seeing decline, more people in 2024 report that their finances improved from 2022, implying movement in a positive direction.

Over the last 12 months, how has your financial situation changed, if at all?

(All Respondents)

Financial Situation Has Gotten Better Financial Situation Has Gotten Worse
2024 2022 2024 2022
US 27% 24% 41% 45%
UK 21% 19% 45% 46%
Germany 25% 20% 40% 45%

 

This notion is reinforced by consumers’ sentiments, with 40% expecting their financial situations to get better over the next 12 months, while 25% expect it to get worse.

Compared to 2022, it seems that more consumers (particularly in the UK and Germany) are seeing a proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” after navigating high inflation and ballooning costs.

Over the next 12 months, how do you expect your financial situation to change, if at all? (All Respondents)

Financial Situation Expected to Get Better Financial Situation Expected to Get Worse
2024 2022 2024 2022
US 43% 38% 24% 27%
UK 40% 18% 22% 48%
Germany 37% 25% 28% 41%

 

Despite this optimism, consumers still expect their spending to increase in areas like groceries (51%), utilities (41%), and housing (39%) over the next 6 months.

Consumers Are Wary of Increasing Their Spending

Consumers are approaching the current economy in a cost-conscious manner, in line with short-term concern around personal finances. Most have been spending less over the last 6 months due to their concerns about the economy and geopolitical events, but only 16% admit to “doom spending,” or spending more to cope with economic stress.

Eliminating budget variance has been a priority for many shoppers in response to a turbulent economy. Nearly one-quarter (23%) of consumers describe their current habits as “routine spending,” with consistent and predictable patterns prioritizing necessities. Another one in five (22%) describe themselves as “budget-conscious,” carefully planning and tracking purchases.

Over the last 6 months, half (51%) of consumers have cited economic and geopolitical unrest as reasons for reducing spending. This finding holds true across countries (US: 50%, UK: 53%, and Germany: 50%).

Over the last 6 months, have your spending habits changed due to concerns about the economy and / or geopolitical events? (All Respondents)

Spending More Spending Less No Changes in Spending Habits
US 18% 50% 25%
UK 15% 53% 28%
Germany 15% 50% 31%

 

Gen Z consumers (22%) were more likely to admit to “doom spending” than other generations (Millennials: 19%, Gen X: 11%, and Boomers + Silent Gen: 9%). These “doom spenders” report spending more on items like clothing (13%) and experiences like travel (11%). “Doom spenders” in Europe (UK: 13% and Germany: 15%) are spending more on travel than those in the US (5%).

Although a plurality (44%) of consumers report no change in their levels of debt over the last 6 months, about one-quarter (27%) report increased debt. Those in Germany (50%) and the UK (45%) are more likely than those in the US (37%) to report no change in debt.

Shoppers Are Divided on Their Approach to Savings

When it comes to saving habits, consumers are divided. About one-third (30%) admit to “doom saving,” while nearly half either have (or plan) to take on an additional job to increase their income.

Close to an even split of shoppers have either been saving more (30%), saving less (30%), or have had no change in spending habits (35%). This finding holds true across countries.

Gen Z consumers (42%), also the highest “doom spenders,” are more likely to report saving more than other generations (Millennials: 31%, Gen X: 24%, and Boomers + Silent Gen: 14%).

Over the last 6 months, have your saving habits changed due to concerns about the economy and / or geopolitical events? (All Respondents)

Saving More Saving Less No Changes in Saving Habits
US 28% 32% 33%
UK 24% 35% 37%
Germany 37% 23% 36%

 

 

Among “doom savers,” the top reported reasons for increased savings are contributions to emergency funds (52%) and affording the rising cost of necessities like food and rent (33%).

German consumers were particularly focused on increasing their emergency savings (62%), compared to the US (41%) and UK (48%). Americans, meanwhile, were more focused on saving to afford necessities (43%), compared to the UK (27%) and Germany (30%).

One-quarter (24%) have chosen to take on an additional job or “side hustle” to increase their income in the last 12 months, and another one-third (32%) plan to do so in the future in response to stress over personal finances.

In the last 12 months, have you taken on an additional job or “side hustle” to increase your income? (All Respondents)

Have Taken on an Additional Job Plan to Take on an Additional Job Have No Plans to Take on an Additional Job
US 28% 30% 33%
UK 24% 34% 38%
Germany 22% 34% 40%

 

Those who have taken on another role, or plan to do so, say they are trying to save for the future (26%), to make ends meet (24%), and because they need more money to support their family (24%), but reasoning varied by geography.

US consumers were most likely to take on an additional role to try to make ends meet (30%), whereas those in Germany and the UK are more likely to do so to try to save for the future (32% and 28%, respectively).