Consumers don’t plan major changes in lifestyles or spending patterns, survey shows

Broad sample of U.S. households finds optimism about future economic prospects; satisfaction with energy suppliers varies by region

NORTH SALEM, NY, November 13, 2001 – Despite the events of September 11 and ongoing concerns about air safety, the economy and domestic security, a major new survey indicates that Americans are regaining their positive outlook and resuming their normal living and spending patterns.

The in-depth telephone survey of 830 U.S. households, completed between October 11 and 25, finds that while one in four consumers are more cautious about how they spend money, two-thirds of those sampled say they have not changed their spending behavior. And in a cautionary signal of holiday shopping patterns, just over one in 10–11 percent– expect to spend more in the months ahead.

Longer term, a quarter of those surveyed–27 percent–expect their personal financial situation will improve 12 months from now. Close to two thirds of the consumers in the sample–62 percent–believe their personal financial situation will remain unchanged. Only eight percent foresee a decline in their personal finances.

Underscoring their positive outlook, half of those surveyed say that recent events have not changed their normal household routines and activities. Indeed, close to a third believe things will change for the better over the next year.

These findings are part of the early results of the 2001 national residential customer survey conducted by RKS Research and Consulting, a 28-year old market research and public opinion polling firm based in North Salem, NY. RKS conducted this survey for a group of energy utility sponsors, and included additional questions this year to probe the national mood and outlook.

“These responses attest to the resiliency of the American people,” said David J. Reichman, RKS president. “Despite the daily flow of news about battles overseas and threats at home, American consumers remain upbeat and determined to stick to their accustomed patterns of spending, living and working. The implications for the national economy–barring any further disruptions–are most positive.”

Among energy issues regularly tracked by RKS surveys, Americans are very satisfied with their present utility–but the high national scores mask dramatic regional differences. For example, residential customers in the West are far more critical of their utilities’ performance on various customer satisfaction dimensions than other parts of the country; and California customers appear to account for the negativity. Customer assessments of utility performance show improvement in the Northeast and South, with little change in the Midwest, according to the RKS data.

Amid heightened concerns about the nation’s infrastructure, customers give their utilities high marks for safeguarding power facilities. For instance, four in 10 consumers rate their energy supplier favorably for protecting power plants and control facilities, and 18 percent register the highest possible scores on this measure. One quarter of those surveyed had no opinion on this issue.

Now in its 28th year, RKS Research & Consulting designs and conducts both syndicated and customized market research and public opinion polling service for energy and natural resource clients and their major associations. RKS operates from headquarters in North Salem, NY, plus field offices in New Jersey, Florida, Ohio and California. More information is available on its website, www.rksresearch.com.

The RKS 2001 national residential customer survey consists of the 830 completed interviews with heads of U.S. households, plus a supplemental sample of 400 upper-income residential customers. The final report, consisting of complete results, charts, data sets and analysis, is now in preparation; ordering information is available from Joan Eckels at RKS, (914) 277-6900, ext. 102; by fax: (914) 277-6988, or by e-mail: jeckels@rksresearch.com.

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