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MP Dunleavey

Women in Red

Say no to the holiday mall madness

A new survey says the recession has led Americans to reassess their values, and many may find new joy in the holidays without frenetic bouts of shopping.

By MP Dunleavey
MSN Money

Every year it's the same: The holiday season turns into the Super Bowl of shopping events, with a ridiculous pre-game show -- lasting weeks -- that hypes the importance of getting out on the field and buying as much as you can.

This year, of all years, we need to forget the media reports bleating about how much Americans are likely to spend -- or how little.

This should be a time for joy, not financial stress. And it could be.

With the big game set to start the day after Thanksgiving, there are signs this season could be financially healthier and even happier for all. So put down the popcorn and pay attention for a second.

I'm thankful for . . . the recession?

There's no doubt that 2009 has been a rough ride, a bleak year in many economic respects. Yet according to a new study, 43% of us believe the recession has had a positive impact on our lives.

The survey was conducted by two Baltimore companies, Context-Based Research Group and Carton Donofrio Partners. Participants were selected to reflect the U.S. population in terms of gender, income, race, age and region.

I would have predicted that 10% to 15% of people might have said they had seen some gain from the Great Recession. We've all seen those stories (I've written one or two) on the upside of down times.

Less work . . . but more time with family! Less credit . . . but smarter spending!

But the fact that 43% of participants said there's been a real benefit to the recession (even if it's just one survey) is startling enough to merit a closer look. What I found when I took a closer look was a much larger trend at work.

Hundreds of personal interviews

Have you ever heard of consumer anthropology? Me neither.

Apparently it's a booming field, one that many corporations rely on to learn more about what consumers want.

Video: What to expect this holiday season

If Frito-Lay or Kraft, for example, wants to know what parents think about cheese spread, "they might hire a consumer anthropology team to hang out with moms as they make lunch in the morning and talk to them about whatever is on their minds," explains Robbie Blinkoff, a co-founder of Context-Based Research Group. "It's not just about cheese spread."

Consumer anthropology might seem like an intensive form of market research. But its methods are based on techniques derived from cultural anthropology and ethnography, in which people are observed in the context of their daily lives. Thus scientists glean insights about behavior, beliefs and social structure from these in-depth analyses.

These are the kinds of surveys Blinkoff conducts.

After the credit markets collapsed in 2008, Blinkoff and his partner, a quantitative researcher named Dr. Cleve Corlett, felt a significant change was under way. They decided to conduct a survey to see how Americans were coping with the economic crisis. They spent several months doing personal interviews with people across the country. What they found inspired them to write a report called "Grounding the American Dream: A Cultural Study on the Future of Consumerism in a Changing Economy."

Continued: A slow but seismic shift

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