Australian consumers remain willing to spend but are doing so by substituting generic, lower-priced alternatives for brand-name items and bargaining for the best deal, a report says.

They are also maintaining loyalty to their trusted brands and are not sacrificing certain core items such as quality meat and vegetables and house insurance, amid the global recession.

The findings are in a survey by research company Directional Insights on behalf of AMP Capital Shopping Centres, which owns 39 retail centres across Australia and New Zealand.

Directional Insights managing director Helen Bakewell said consumers had a “new mindset” in their approach to shopping.

“People are comparing prices, they are going shopping prepared, they are avoiding impulse buying,” Ms Bakewell said on Friday.

“They are being safe and sensible about their purchases and they are really looking about the victory of the bargain.

“People started to feel like they could breathe, they felt quite relieved not to be caught up in a consumption-led life.”

The report comprised an online survey of 1000 people, as well as four focus groups featuring women of different ages and family situations.

Among the results, 84 per cent of respondents said they would not give up quality meat and vegetables even in a recession, while nine in 10 said they would continue to fork out for home insurance.

Ms Bakewell said consumers were looking to see what trade-offs could be made to try to maintain certain purchases.

“If you don’t have good-quality meat, it can spoil the whole meal,” Ms Bakewell said about how one focus group participant described the unwillingness to compromise on certain items.

Ms Bakewell said feedback from focus groups indicated that bargaining had “moved into the mainstream” for the first time, with some shoppers even trying to haggle at upmarket retailers such as David Jones.

“This is something we would never have seen years ago,” Ms Bakewell said.

Many households have had their disposable incomes boosted by income tax cuts delivered in the budget and lower mortgage repayments as interest rates fell.

They have also benefited from the federal government’s measures to support the economy via two stimulus packages that included about $20 billion worth of cash handouts.

AMP Capital Shopping Centres head of marketing and communication Stuart Langeveldt said the level of consumer spending over the second half of 2009 would depend on how the unemployment rate and interest rates moved.

“I don’t think we are out of the woods yet, we need to be a bit more mindful of the current economic climate for at least another six months,” Mr Langeveldt said.

Mr Langeveldt said the report highlighted that consumers were still spending but were doing so “on their own terms” and researching more to find the best price.

As a result, retailers needed to work harder to win the consumer dollar, he said.

“Retailers need to appreciate that consumers, I guess, are now more mission shoppers as opposed to leisure shoppers,” Mr Langeveldt said.

“The report is giving an insight to retailers that they need to actually put their product out there where their customer demographic is researching.”