The onset of recession in the UK has prompted a tidal shift in shopping habits, with the emergence of the “hyper-sensitive consumer”, a study out today (23 July) has found.

According to business advisors BDO Stoy Hayward, over the last 12-18 months, consumers have raised their expectations of the service retailers should provide.

According to the researchers, the “hyper-sensitive consumer” is both time- and money-poor, feels guilt for spending, is less loyal and has an attitude that retailers are “privileged” to receive their custom.

This “new consumer” is challenging the country’s retailers “like never before”, the report suggested.

The “hyper-sensitive consumer” refuses to tolerate bad service, with an overwhelming 74% of consumers saying they would not buy and would leave the store if they encountered poor service and a further 71% are happy to look elsewhere for the right bargain, the report said.

“The new hyper-sensitive consumer is more switched on, better informed and surrounded by choice. They’ll mix PRADA with Primark and Waitrose with LIDL – a phenomenon we’ve not seen before,” Don Williams, retail partner at BDO Stoy Hayward, said.

“Retailers should be frightened by the fact 74% of their customers would leave the store if they encountered bad service. In the current environment, this is something that they just cannot afford to ignore,” warned Williams.

Putting further pressure on retailers, hyper-sensitive consumers want their shopping experience to continue improving. 

The economic downturn has meant that the hyper-sensitive consumer is also more value-oriented, with 49% of consumers stating that they had less to spend. 

However, Williams added that value is distinct from price, 71% of consumers agreeing that they are happy to pay full price to treat themselves.

“Our research identified that perceptions of value don’t just influence where the hyper-sensitive consumer makes a purchase, but that it could determine whether the purchase happens at all. The hyper-sensitive consumer is more reluctant to buy, and needs a strong reason to do so,” Williams concluded.

However, a spokesperson for the British Retail Consortium told just-food that UK retailers are already forging ahead to improve their offering and increase their appeal.

“We’ve got a fiercely competitive retail sector in the UK, which means retailers are constantly focused on all aspects of their businesses. Right now, there is a greater focus on price and value but service standards remain important,” the spokesperson said.

However, he acknowledged that the recession “removes the margin for error”.

“Retailers who have been less focused on these things have less room for manoeuvre in tough times, but successful retailers are always focused on these aspects of their businesses.”