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NEW YORK — Consumers are starting to feel better about the economy and their own financial situations, but they still are rather cautious, and most are still planning to continue dollar-stretching habits even in easier financial times, according to a recent study from Deloitte.

More specifically, 55 percent of respondents in the early-May study believe the economic recovery has begun, while 64 percent feel their own household finances have either improved or remained steady from last year.

Not to mention, 63 percent claim they plan to either increase retail spending or keep it level from a year ago.

That said, consumers are still a little bit guarded in light of outside factors that could affect their wallet. In fact, 54 percent said they may reduce spending in the coming months because of increased energy costs.

Forty-five percent cite higher taxes as a reason to lower spending and 41 percent point to the lack of job-market improvement as potentially impactful.

Moreover, 27 percent suggest that although the economy has started to bounce back, another recession is not out of the realm of possibility.

"Consumers appear to be picking up on the signals that point to brighter days ahead," stated Stacy Janiak, vice chairman and Deloitte's retail leader in the U.S.

"The majority of those surveyed indicate their net worth is stabilizing, if not improving," Janiak added. "While consumers remain vigilant in this recovery, retailers should be encouraged by consumers' tone as they plan for the critical fall and winter selling seasons."

Continuing on, the study found consumers are aware of retailers' operational changes implemented to adapt to lower demand.

For instance, half of respondents felt there are more sales or deals being offered, 53 percent feel like there isn't as much sales help and 43 percent have noticed lower inventory levels.

Next, Deloitte shared how shoppers are still using the "frugal" practices they started during the recession even though the recovery has begun. In fact, of the respondents who said they shopped at the specific stores that would save them some cash during hard economic times — which represented 45 percent of surveyed consumers — 71 percent claimed they will continue those habits.

"The recession may have altered the dynamics of the retail environment. However, given consumers' recent spending activity and improving outlook, retailers should keep a sharp focus on the consumers' shopping behavior and invest in areas that may drive loyalty in the months ahead," said Janiak.

"Retailers should consider expanding their customer analytics capabilities to make merchandising, staffing and inventory decisions that enable them to adapt to shifts in customer demand," Janiak continued. "Retailers may also be able to apply these insights to localize their product selection, promotions and pricing scenarios to deliver a customized shopping experience."

Moving on, officials noted how consumers have leaned on social, mobile and online tools for shopping following the recession.

Thirty-three percent of shoppers said they have used the Web more to make purchases this year, but, interestingly enough, they're also using the Internet more when it comes to in-store purchasing, as well. In fact, 75 percent turn to the Web to research information on stores, prices or products, either before they get to the store or while they're there.

The proportion of social-networking users among the respondents stood at 56 percent. Of these consumers that use social networking, 43 percent use it as a communication avenue with retailers.

Sixty-four percent of social-network users employ it to search for promotions, 48 percent check out products and 35 percent of users read recommendations via social networking.  

And it appears online product reviews can be quite influential, as well.

Fifty-one percent claimed that an online review has been pivotal in them choosing to buy a product, while 50 percent said an online review has influenced them in steering clear of a product.

"Consumers are tuning in to online conversations to make informed buying decisions and redefining the way they interact with retailers," shared Janiak.

"These platforms offer retailers a measurable and low-cost entry to reach consumers via multiple touch points," Janiak continued. "Retailers may also be able to increase online conversion through targeted communications, coupons and promotions that may drive customers to their in-store and online channels."

Finally, Deloitte pointed out how influential mobile shopping platforms can be.

The proportion of consumers who have used a Web-enabled mobile phone for shopping purposes stood at 21 percent.

Meanwhile, 36 percent of shoppers said they have shopped on a Web site and 35 percent have used a Web site to compare prices of different products.

Twenty-nine percent have turned to the Web to research product information online. The amount of consumers who said they made a purchase on a Web site through their mobile phones was at 25 percent.