Rural Consumers’ Financial Pessimism Shapes Shopping Behaviors

A gloomy financial outlook leads to anti-consumerist sentiment, and a greater prioritization of convenience over experience quality
Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Kelly Rice
July 08, 2024 at 5:00 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • Rural dwellers have a negative outlook of their current and future financial situation: 47% of rural consumers said they are worse off financially than they were a year ago, and 23% think that a year from now, things will be even worse.

  • They also report choosing the lowest cost option and secondhand products more often than others, and are less willing to pay extra for comfort.

  • Rural consumers rely on Amazon at similar rates to the general population, but are less likely to be Prime members.

Rural consumers get the short end of the stick when it comes to shopping. With fewer stores and longer distances to reach them, options are simply more limited. Retailers and e-commerce brands serving rural populations must understand that the differentiators of rural shoppers lie not just in real estate, but in consumer psychographics and priorities that are miles away from those shopping in urban centers. There’s a fundamental attitudinal shift between rural and urban areas that speaks to consumers’ intrinsic motivations: shopping isn’t entertainment for rural consumers. 

Rural dwellers have a negative financial outlook

Consumers living in rural areas show more financial pessimism than people who live in suburban and urban areas. When asked about both their current and future personal financial outlook, people living in rural areas have an aggregate worse financial outlook than any other community cohort. 

Financial pessimism is common for rural dwellers

Shares of respondents who hold the following attitudes about their personal finances
Morning Consult Logo
“Don’t know / no opinion” responses not shown.
Morning Consult Intelligence gathered 340,704 survey responses May 21, 2023 – May 21, 2024 with a margin of error of +/- 0.2 percentage points.

This is in part due to corresponding income trends: Rural dwellers are more likely to report earning less than $50,000 annually (63% of rural dwellers, versus 46% of suburbanites and 55% of urban dwellers), and their financial sentiments are more aligned with lower income populations. Ongoing inflation is a drag on consumers’ financial outlook, along with high interest rates. Further, this cohort has less to invest, so the upside of investment gains isn’t as impactful. 

Shopping attitudes of rural dwellers illustrate a rejection of consumerism

Financial pessimism is apparent in rural consumers’ attitudes about shopping and consumption, in that they lean away from consumption for consumption’s sake. They’re more likely than others to say they frequently consider previously owned products, and say they tend to choose the less expensive option. Rural consumers are less willing than others to pay more for comfort, enjoy shopping in stores and pay more for sustainable products (though, arguably secondhand options are the most sustainable option). They’re certainly uninterested in staying ahead of the curve with personal technology. 

Rural consumers’ shopping attitudes have anti-consumerism bent

Shares who agreed with the following statements:
Morning Consult Logo
“Don’t know / no opinion” responses not shown.
Morning Consult Intelligence gathered 340,704 survey responses May 21, 2023 – May 21, 2024 with a margin of error of +/- 0.2 percentage points.

The psychographic profile of rural shoppers also reflects a mentality that is dissimilar to those in urban areas. Urban dwellers are more trend and status driven. Conversely, rural dwellers are more likely than others to say they put other people’s needs before their own, and that their family is the most important part of their life. An emphasis on community over status contributes to a diminished importance of consumerism; In short, status symbols matter less to rural consumers. 

Rural shoppers use Amazon and Walmart at similar rates to the rest of the population, but eschew Prime memberships

Rural consumers have fewer choices in where to shop, and greater distances to get to stores. Still, shoppers in rural households generally prefer to shop in stores over online, at higher rates than consumers in other community types: 49% of rural residents said they prefer to shop in stores, versus 44% of those in urban areas. 

Morning Consult Intelligence data shows that rural consumers shop at Walmart slightly more often than the general population (+2 percentage points), and are likely to lean on Amazon for home delivery.

Amazon and Walmart are as common among rural shoppers as much as the rest of the country

Shares of respondents who engage in the following shopping activities:
Morning Consult Logo
“Don’t know / no opinion” responses not shown.
Morning Consult Intelligence gathered 340,704 survey responses May 21, 2023 – May 21, 2024 with a margin of error of +/- 0.2 percentage points.

While e-commerce helps rural shoppers fill in the gaps, ultra-fast delivery options aren’t always readily available, explaining why fewer rural residents subscribe to Amazon Prime. Suburban and urban shoppers — who ostensibly have greater access to stores in their immediate vicinity — use the service more often. 

Dollar stores have expanded into rural areas in recent years, filling the gaps between larger stores but not necessarily improving other aspects of the shopping experience. When rural shoppers do choose to go online, convenience, cost savings and product selection are more important to them than for the general population.

Morning Consult Intelligence customers can access the platform here. If you are interested in learning more about our audience profile data, reach out to your Morning Consult contact or email [email protected].

Claire Tassin is a retail and e-commerce analyst. She conducts research on shifting consumer behaviors and expectations, as well as trends relevant to marketing leaders in the retail sector.
We want to hear from you. Reach out to this author or your Morning Consult team with any questions or comments.Contact Us