In this episode:

Wendy Liebmann talks with Candace Corlett, WSL’s president, about the current state of planned disruption that shoppers have created for themselves, and the resultant impact on brands and retailers.

They discuss:

  • How shoppers have created new and dynamic ways to shop
  • That there is no longer an orderly path to purchase
  • The implications for supply chain of people now buying in 40% more places than they did in 2014, including the metaverse
  • That companies can no longer assume they own the customer. There is no “my customer”.
  • The role of the physical store now as the place to find the newest products and services, and the implications on store design and merchandising
  • How companies need to plan their own disruption – utilizing what they learned throughout the pandemic

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Watch the video episode:

Wendy 00:09

Hello everyone. I'm Wendy Liebmann CEO and Chief Shopper WSL Strategic Retail and this is Future Shop. This is where I talked about innovators, disruptors and iconoclast about the future of retail. Today, my guest is a familiar and very lovely face. Candace Corlett, my business partner, President of WSL, and leader of all our How America Shops® and all other research, amongst many other things. Hello, Candace.

Candace 00:48

Hi, Wendy, how are you?

Wendy 00:49

I am well, happy everything. Lots going on in our WSL shopper-centric world these days. But first and foremost, the baseball season is underway, with bigger bases, faster time clocks and no shifts. So what do you reckon? What's your sense of the season?

Candace 01:07

Well, you know, I've been watching the pitchers. And if the pitcher didn't have a hard enough job, now he's got to watch the timer, or watch for the signal from whoever's watching the timer. I know. I think it's a hard job.

Wendy 01:20

It's shoppers’ live, just keep moving. And there are time clocks everywhere. Well, I

Candace 01:25

do think that at the root of all this is to make the game go faster, because we know that people don't have the patience to sit through anything, let alone walk up and down grocery aisles.

Wendy 01:36

Oh, I don't know streaming we stream we stream we stream. But we'll talk about all of that in a minute. Right? We will. So baseball has lots of planned disruptions, which is actually my perfect segue to our topic today, which is our latest research study, which you have brilliantly called Planned Disruption. Do you like myself segue? I do. So plan disruption, not just baseball, but life? Why did we do the study, why now?

Candace 02:06

You now no secret, we've lived through three years of major disruption. And in all the reading I've done, executives made plans and then threw them out five days later. So we learned to really punt. And you and I both grew up in corporate America. And we know that in running our own company, you can handle surprises about 20% of the time, but we don't necessarily like surprises. So the goal here was to say, Okay, we've learned how to be really agile, and make lemons out of lemonade. And now how do we take that going forward and plan for the disruptions that we know are coming? And that's you know, as we always say, if we follow the shopper, they'll lead us to what's going to be disruptive.

Wendy 02:57

Yeah. And it certainly feels like that whole, certainly, these last six months, 12 months of shoppers really trying to take control. So planning themselves, not just we in corporate America, but shoppers themselves, really taking a hand now and trying to control what they can as we emerge out of three years or five years, or whatever this cycle of disruption is. So do you get that sense that shoppers now are really trying to do what they need to do to control what's going on a bit better.

Candace 03:34

By now, I don't think on top of the pandemic, and the disruption to supply chain. And now inflation layered on top of that, I think manufacturers have been very astute at taking advantage of the inflation. And shoppers out of necessity have said, we are comfortable people but when you go into the store and pay $6 for a quart of light cream to make your Easter bread. I mean, that's outrageous and eggs, you know, everybody wanted to dye eggs and 18 eggs were like $7. So people have been forced to think and to work harder. You know, I think we'd sort of coasted we learned to live with less during the pandemic. And we could coast a bit in terms of paying for convenience. And now people are having to rethink that and work harder to find the discounts and maybe go from store to store to follow the sales. Yeah,

Wendy 04:42

that's the thing that I think you know, in talking to clients and the industries around retail at large, this sort of misunderstanding that this notion of we're all stressed we have so much on our plate, whether it's work from home work from the office, if we're lucky, you know, work on the quote unquote front lines, juggling school, all of these things juggling life, right? And because of that there's this perception that people want to yes, simplify. But they think that means simplify shopping in the sense of fewer places to shop. And we're not seeing that at all right? We're seeing people shopping in many more places than they did pre pandemic.

Candace 05:24

While there's an explosion in the number of places people have shopping. I think it's up like 40% since 2014. But I think you know, what's different now is you can sit on your couch, and buy direct from a manufacturer's website, you can't get through Instagram or Facebook without ads popping up. You don't have to go anywhere to shop in these expanded channels. And the new retail that's opened up that's taken a lot of major retailers by surprise. I mean places like Aldi, and Lidl and Five Below, I mean, they're just an extension of what we've learned to do shop for the best prices, except that they're also loaded with new and they're very easy to navigate.

Wendy 06:18

It's interesting, you say that I was talking to a retail client of ours today. And he was talking about, you know, this sense of their teams, talking about our customer, my customer. And he said, you know, I've been listening to all WSL forever. And he said, you know, they are not our customer, maybe a moment they're our customer when they walk in the door for something specific or go on to the website or whatever. But he said, you know this, that's a big miss miss-assumption, if that's even a word, you know, misunderstanding or

Candace 06:51

misconception, yeah,

Wendy 06:53

thank you, misconception. Thank you. misconception that actually they are ours. They are mind and that if you think that way, you really can find yourself even more disrupted. And perhaps you are. But one of the things that struck me out of the new work was this whole notion about the the role of the store. And now as we've moved through this, and you're talking about, I can sit on the couch, and I can click here and I can watch Instagram down that dark hole. And you know, click and buy. But the role of the store now feels very clearly or more clearly defined the physical store. So what did shoppers tell us about that in this new study?

Candace 07:34

Well, it's wonderful when we're surprised, and the fact that two-thirds of shoppers still discover something new to buy, by walking up and down the aisles, or watching the end caps. And that's across generations, you know, we think of people under 40, sitting with their laptops, or tablets or mobile and searching for new things. No, that's not where most of them are finding what's new, which is a big boon for paying attention to how you launch a new SKU, a new item, a new line, a new brand, you have to be on the floor of the store, but it's different, you know, you can't be tucked away on a shelf. And you remember, we used to focus so much on how big would the word New be, nobody's looking for that word new, they're looking for items to pump off the shelf. So you can't just count on people going up and down the aisles because they don't go up and down all the aisles. But those end caps and displays in the aisles are what capture people's attention and what make the success of a new brand.

Wendy 08:47

It is interesting because we had been so obsessed by E-commerce direct to consumer, even order online pick up at the store, all of those new technologies, that I think we've we so often -- not we because we're you know, we're always following the shopper to see the future, as you said -- but that whole focus on them, what is the physical store? What's the role of that store beyond you know, it's on the corner, I can run in quickly. Even now I got my groceries in two hours. So you know, how much quicker could I be to get out of them to get up for supermarket, you know, all of that. So it's not, it's this whole focus of it. What was interesting couple of weeks ago, we were doing an evaluation for a client of new concepts and and you know, the retailer we were evaluating for them had taken about 20% of their SKUs out of their store. And now the focus was to make it easier to find the basics but also to give air, breathing space to things that were new. And that was the first time that it seemed to me to sort of see it come into real life. So you know, I think about that a lot when you talk about the Aldis of the world the Five Belows of the world, and how that edited mix, helps them highlight things that are unique different than anywhere else.

Candace 10:09

Exactly. Exactly. And I think the other thing that feeds into that is we know how low brand loyalty is in most categories. And I know that there's this perception that whatever laundry detergent there is on the shelf was okay for me, unless I have a special need. And you know, bread is bread is bread and eggs, are eggs are eggs, and it's price driven. It's convenience driven, and people aren't going to go out of their way, except maybe for price now, because they have to.

Wendy 10:47

Yeah, that's the CPG space too. But then if you look at categories like pets and shoes,

Candace 10:54

carbonated beverages,

Wendy 10:56

don't talk to me about carbonated beverage. I've never seen so many brands, sorry, beverage clients. Never seen so many brands. So long rows, where was I? Oh, I was in Cincinnati. Not naming names. But, and looking at a major grocery retailer. I think they had like 10 facing aisles of beverages. It was so hard to even figure out what you want to be on the very obvious, so much diversity.

Candace 11:24

And one of the reasons is that there is such loyalty. If I'm a Coke drinker, or a Fanta drinker, or a diet root beer drinker, it's about my brand. It's about my brand. If I want Dr. Pepper, I want Dr. Pepper. Amazing, right? Well, and that's it's made it very, very complicated. And when you know the same thing holds true when you get into coffee, or tea, the explosion in tea brands is, but we've got a more sophisticated palette, and there are certain things we'll pay more for.

Wendy 11:57

Yeah. So you know, you talked about surprises before, surprises out of this work?

Candace 12:03

I think the discovery that new is still very grounded in the store was a major surprise. I am in awe of the trust that shoppers have in these emerging channels. And I'm talking about ads that pop up on Instagram, Facebook, or a niche brand where you go directly to the manufacturers’ website. There is this inherent trust that I will order it, give them my credit card, and I will get it. And if I don't like it, I'll be able to return it.

Wendy 12:42

Yeah, you and I have a long enough history to know that in the early days, whether it was television shopping, or obviously, you know, the catalog shopping days or the beginning of the E-commerce and shopping and that there was this tremendous nervousness of oh, do I really want to give this my credit card?

Candace 13:02

Right? Well, those days are over.

Wendy 13:04

Yeah, clearly. Right. Yeah.

Candace 13:07

And you know, you used. to when the new retailer arrived, you could go in the store, check out the merchandise and decide whether or not it was for you. And now we just go and order from livestream or a niche brand website, or what is most fascinating to me is the pop-up ads on Instagram, and Facebook or whatever social media platform you're on.

Wendy 13:32

Yes. Hello TikTok. One of the things that's interesting to me about that is when I think about the surprises and the places people go, and you're absolutely right, that diversity of everything from live streaming, which feels like old television shopping, but live streaming, as you said, direct to consumer, the metaverse. You know, people have been like the metaverse, really. But I thought what was fascinating to me, not just that I think the numbers were about a quarter of people said they had they regularly were on the metaverse every week, right every week, which is really stunning. But what they were doing there what they were doing and spending there and the categories that they were actually spending on beyond you know, some Nike something for my fabulous avatar. They were the things that I found fascinating and kind of opened the door to think about the next level of disruption, you know, pets, right? fitness classes, pets, anything,

Candace 14:32

fitness classes, concerts without the fees from StubHub and all them.

Wendy 14:39

You don't want to pay $5,000 to see Bruce Springsteen.

Candace 14:43

I am seeing him Friday night, and I won't tell you how much the tickets are.

Wendy 14:47

I don't want to know. Don't tell me Don't tell me.

Candace 14:51

But the fascinating thing is the metaverse you know, we think of it as having to use the goggles. I mean, I have been on several brand sites where they literally lead you into the forest. And as you walk along the forest, they're introducing products. And you click on the product and it tells you everything about that product. Yeah, and you're in the forest, and it's just removed you to a wonderful place. And I buy and you know, me, I'm pretty frugal spender, but

Wendy 15:24

but not when it came to beauty. Right the other day,

Candace 15:27

take me down those foresty or just fantasy world websites. And I don't need goggles to do it. And I just roam and click on a product and think, oh, that will be very comforting.

Wendy 15:41

Well, and I do think if you put it in the context of this disruption that we're talking about, you know, we tend to think, or CPG companies, fashion companies, retailers of all sorts tend to think about, it's either or, and I think our greatest insight, learning a number of years ago, but more recently in our work was, you know, the people who order online, pick up at the store, park the car and go into the store. It's not I only do one, you know, if I get all the essentials off my list, like I just got the groceries delivered in two hours, that doesn't mean I won't go into the supermarket, or the wine store or anywhere else, it doesn't mean I won't go into the Target and look at the beauty aisle or see what's new or somewhere else.

Candace 16:28

Because that's where the discovery takes place. That's right. That's right. That's the discoveries happening.

Wendy 16:34

And I do think that's where, from a manufacturer or retailer, virtually any category, we're starting to see this organized chaos planned disruption on the part of shoppers.

Candace 16:48

Well, it's very planned on the part of shoppers. And now the challenge is for manufacturers and retailers to seize that and say, how do I be everywhere. And that's becoming a challenge.

Wendy 17:03

And that, you know, you talked, you alluded to supply chain issues in the beginning. Well, that complexity of okay, now I've got a little bit over here, and a little bit over there, and some over there. And some days, the shoppers in that store. And, you know, on my website here, that ability to manage the supply chain in all of that the ability to manage consistency of pricing, if that's even an issue anymore, those things become hugely complicated. So when I stepped back and even struck me the other day, I think there was a whole conversation about movies. And you know, we've streamed ourselves to almost distraction. But Amazon coming out and saying they needed to actually release their new movie “Air” in the theaters for a period of time before they put it on Prime. So again, it's the same sort of thing, what sort of experience do I want? Why am I there? Is it social is that you know, another way of going out, versus staying in and doing click kind of things. So that world seems to be very distracting and disruptive, particularly on the part of the companies that are trying to sell us stuff, versus the shopper or the viewer who's just like, no, it's the way I want it.

Candace 18:21

And wherever it's convenient for me at that moment. And that's what makes you know, I've been saying for three years, there is no longer a path to purchase, I get up with very good intentions of going out to get groceries, and three hours later, they're at my door, because things get in the way, or my mood changes. That's not how I want to spend my time.

Wendy 18:46

Well, I think that's the other piece. And we saw that in some work we did last year. And you know, for everybody who's listening, these are national surveys, this isn't two people and a dog, although sometimes that's helpful. But these are, you know, big national surveys and, and last year, when we were looking at the sort of emotional sensibility that shoppers had about, if I feel good, I'll go to the store. Or if I've got a lot of things to do, I go to multiple stores, because it's easier than going down the You know, the ecommerce, rabbit hole kind of thing, looking for many things. If I don't, if I'm tired, I'm busy, I'm cranky, which could be many days in my case, then I'm just going to click and sort of being able to understand and respond to that emotional sentiment, condition, is the other complexity here, right? When we think about disruption, and

Candace 19:39

it's very disrupting, and that's why we named this report what we did because if you follow the shopper, read what we're printing, read what the majority of shoppers are saying, you'll know what you have to plan for. And it's not easy, because as you said, people who are selling us things count on us to go to websites or retail spaces to buy, and they don't know how to organize to let me go on their website and buy one or even three, they don't know how to do that. And very often, that's how I want to do it. And when we talk about the smaller formats, and taking away items to make space on the shelf, well, there are certain things that I absolutely want. And are you now going to give me the tool via a QR code to order that from you? Or am I going to go home and say, okay, I'll just get it on Amazon?

Wendy 20:40

Yeah. So, you know, within all this complexity, that's sort of the difficult news. We've got one other factor that layers into this. I mean, we can't ignore the state of the economy, right. Conversations I was having today, what's going to happen, recession or not? How are shoppers thinking about that? I mean, as we talk to shoppers, we're sort of in this mode of just in case, right? The economists may say one thing, but as shoppers in this world of trying to take control, they're taking control, just in case it gets worse, right? Well,

Candace 21:14

we do know that shoppers are no longer fools. 90% of them believe that the prices that they're experiencing right now are going to stay there or go higher. I mean, they now know how business capitalism plays out. So they're just having to make choices. But what I do admire is they never, I shouldn't say nobody, but most people don't do with that. They find other ways. And you know, the combination of the new channels, the new retailers, the fast in and out small formats with lower prices. I mean, people are finding ways. We always thought Millennials when they were poor college students were shopping in dollar stores. Well, they took that habit with them as they got older. And they've forced changes in dollar stores. Starting with nothing's $1. But

Wendy 22:11

yeah, you and I marveled at the Aldis and Lidls of the world, the Five Belows of this world, I was just we were just looking at some of our retail innovation work last week of end caps that or displays that Five Below was doing around health and wellness. I mean, everything was $5. You know, there were suggestions around things for stress things for stretching things for, you know, hydration, I mean, everything under $5, there was a Five Below. And you know, these smaller formats, not just lower price, but smaller format, retailers really doing quite an extraordinary job of adapting to trends, but also making it really easy and surprising for shoppers to be there.

Candace 22:55

You've touched on something that the other side of our research, the Retail Safari®, I mean, Five Below had that word manifestation up on an endcap. And I really didn't even know what it meant I had to go look it up or ask one of our Gen Z employees, what’s with the manifestation and Five Below, had it up there. And that picking up that language and those brands from social media and giving them credibility, I mean, hims and hers in Target. I mean, I know people who haven't even heard of hims and hers, and they're encountering it and Target and thinking it's a new brand.

Wendy 23:36

Well, I think that's true. And you know, looking around and you know, we're lucky, aside from a diverse range of clients across lots of categories, and lots of retail channels. You know, we're also talking to the press a lot who interview us and, and, you know, some of the conversations that you know, we all have with them, when they're talking about new formats that are opening and the impact of social media. I must say one of the things that I don't think I was so surprised about but came out of the research was, while I trust a lot of these other resources, there was this beginning of concern about influencers, I think, did I remember that correctly?

Candace 24:13

And that, to me, is the contradiction. I mean, people have told us there's like a 15 point gap between the people who read Amazon reviews and trust Amazon reviews, and reviews on retailer websites. And you know, when a review is labeled “paid promotion” I don't even know what that means. But clearly, shoppers are interpreting it to mean oh, this person got paid for this good review. So there's that gap forming and trusting reviews, but on the other hand, I'll follow an ad on Instagram, buy something, give them my credit card and expect it'll show up.

Wendy 24:53

Yeah, well the other piece though, which in some ways felt like old is new again was the number as I recall the number one place, person, whatever people trusted. Were friends and family, right? It was kind of old, to your point old as new. And all of that that was back to number we used to laugh some time ago. Sorry, everybody. We don't mean to make this historical (although it's always helpful to have a context) is this notion of in the early days of sort of social media and things, who did I trust? And the answer was, we always said it was friends and strangers. And now friends and family have sort of been wrested back as the sort of number one trusted place for information and resources when I'm making decisions about things. So don't think that's not an important marketing tool, in terms of building awareness, either a brand or a retail space, clearly very important as we sort of move through this disrupted landscape. So, you know, Candace, I always put you on the spot for our clients. I mean, or anybody listening? Who do I what do I have to think about now? You know, what are the two or three things that we really have to be thinking about as people as we move into 2023, 24, 25?

Candace 26:09

I think every brand, and retailer needs to step back and take the time to do that SWOT analysis on how did we get through? How did we become so agile? How did we make decisions so quickly? How did retailers manage to execute curbside pickup and vaccines in 1000s of stores? I mean, they pulled it off, and they have to keep that spirit of agility and attention to the point of sale, because shoppers now expect so much more. I mean, if you were able to give me curbside pickup, when, or in store pickup, when I've never used that before, and it became second nature to you. Well, now I just expect so much more of you.

Wendy 27:02

I think that's a really good point. I think it struck me too, you know, coming through the, through the pandemic and the vaccination process. And we've seen that in other work this whole sense about, you know, we saw the pharmacist, the pharmacist was out in front of the counter, giving vaccinations, calming coaching people. And it was so powerful. And the level of trust in that activity was so great. And then the pharmacist went back behind the counter.

Candace 27:31

Right. And the local high school student is now explaining to you about your medication, you recognize this, your kids friends are working in pharmacy.

Wendy 27:42

Yeah. But that is the piece. And I think that's such a wise, always wise you are, that whole concept of let's not forget what we learned. And let's not forget, you know, whether it's the use of a QR code, is it an effective tool, we saw that perhaps we saw that skyrocket. And let's not forget that this ecosystem that the shopper has around the country has around the world, actually, and all our work has learned to take from to build this disrupted, but plan disruption of their own. To your point, there is no singular Path to Purchase. There is no my customer.

Candace 28:20

No, that was very wise. Yeah. And I

Wendy 28:23

think that becomes really critical as we move forward, let us not forget what we learned here.

Candace 28:29

And one more thing, the shopper was forced to become very digitally literate. And now use that to your advantage. I always get worried when retailers say they're going to spread out the merchandise, and reduce the inventory on the shelf. Yeah, but how are you going to keep that purchase in your chain when someone comes in? And only once you know, I'm making this up Tide for allergic skin? How do you make it that may be a low turning item? But how do you make sure you keep that sale in your store.

Wendy 29:07

So funny, you say that I have these, the English crackers called Digestives. And they are so hard to find. And when I find them at a store, I buy them in bulk. They're great with blue cheese, things like that they're kind of a sweet savory biscuit. And my choice, my places to buy them has become shorter or smaller, smaller, to the point of nothing now. So clearly, I'm gonna have to go online, right, and figure out where they are and how I can pay a case of them or something. But you're absolutely right. How do I facilitate that when I'm in the store, and how

Candace 29:43

do you use it? I mean, don't let people forget how digitally literate they are. Give them incentives help them pop up your app as soon as they cross your threshold to help them find what they need and To order what they can find.

Wendy 30:01

So I think that sort of definitely shown people that if you didn't know that there is disruption. We all knew that. But understanding that the shopper has is very planned and purposeful, mindful and experienced, so that even if we thought we had them before, really, nobody owns that customer. And that ability to not forget all the things we've learned over these last three years, becomes increasingly important and adapting to that. What comes next what the

Candace 30:32

future to planning for your disruption. Yeah,

Wendy 30:35

adapting to this future of retail become so critical now that without that, we always say this, there is no going back. There is no going back. And we need to understand that as we all sort of unmasked, emerge in the world because we're not going to be able to talk about this going backwards much any longer. So anyway, all going forwards. Well, may it be a Mets Yankees World Series, only 150 more games to go.

Candace 31:03

Very disappointing game yesterday. I mean, well, the lowest hitting team in the league and the Mets lost it. I know. Well,

Wendy 31:11

look at the poor ol Dodgers. Okay, guys, I know you're you don't want to hear Candace and me talking about baseball anymore. Unless you're the CPG guys. Okay. Thank you, Wendy. Always, Candace, see you soon. Bye. Bye.

So for all of you see you in the future. There is so much to be seen here. Planned disruption has to be on everybody's desk on everybody's desktop because the shopper is there. The key now is, are you planning your own disruption as you move forward? Are you following the shopper to see the future? There's a lot going on out there. That's incredibly exciting beyond the baseball so stay tuned. More to come.

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