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How Ottawa Valley businesses are adapting to changing consumer habits in a post-inflation economy

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After years of high interest rates and rising inflation, new research from the Future Consumer Index says that the everyday consumer is evolving their habits to match the economy.

The most obvious habit learned from a highly inflated economy is that consumers are looking for deals and discounts where ever they can.

"What we've learned is we've got to maintain a safety net," says Omar Fares, a lecturer at Toronto Metropolitan University, regarding the financial uncertainties Canadians faced throughout the pandemic.

"Now translated over time, when you spend, you're not necessarily going for the best product. You're more so going for the best offer that's out there."

Fares says that can come in the form of loyalty and rewards programs, with nearly 50 percent of buyers inclined to download an app for savings and 70 percent signing up for programs to avoid shipping costs.

At White Pine Books in Arnprior, owner Jen Rusheleau says their rewards program, which offers five percent back on purchases, goes a long way with customers.

"I definitely think it's become more important in recent years, for sure."

Rusheleau says just a few years ago customers were more hesitant to give out personal information in exchange for savings.

"Now people want that. They're looking to save money everywhere, any way they can. It's indicative of the way the economy is now and where people are trying to claw back their dollars."

Another area buyers are wanting to see their dollars go further is in the buying experience.

Fares says gone are the days of shoppers running in and out of stores just for material items.

"If retailers are to cope with this new consumer, just providing their base product is not enough," he tells CTV News.

"We recognize that the new consumer, they will leave your store if you're not fostering a fun and experiential environment."

A buying experience is something that Ottawa Valley Coffee aims to serve with every cup.

"At our Almonte location, they do live music almost every Friday," says owner Josh Curley. "We do trivia night [in Renfrew], that's really taken off with a huge following."

With four locations throughout the valley, Ottawa Valley Coffee is a café that could be considered laid back with old, comfy recliner chairs. There's string lights, neon lights, and live plants throughout, and an in-store marketplace selling goods from other local small businesses.

Curley says the environment is half the experience, the other half comes from the atmosphere created by the staff.

"They're spending [money] more on an experience rather than a big box store. They're coming in and they're paying for the relationship. They're paying for us caring about their name and what they order, and what they're doing on the weekend."

Fares adds that the in-store buying experience has shifted back to the forefront, with nearly 60 percent of consumers interested in seeing, touching, and trying on items – which also aids in avoiding shipping costs.

And following a time when wallets have remained cinched to save, spending on experiences and activities is also seeing an increase.

"As interest rates go down a bit, as there is more disposable income in Canadians' hands, they want fun."

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