In this episode:

Wendy Liebmann and Candace Corlett provide a preview of What’s Up in WSL’s latest How America Shops® research.

You will learn:

  • Why retailers’ efforts to differentiate are not working.
  • How spontaneous shopping is impacting traffic, both in-store and online.
  • What categories are most susceptible – and most opportune — to the spontaneous trip.
  • What to do about it.

Don’t miss upcoming episodes, stay up-to-date by visiting the WSL Shopper Insights Library, or our Podcast page.

Wendy  00:10
Hello, I’m Wendy Liebmann, CEO and Chief shopper at WSL Strategic Retail and this is Future Shop. Today my guest is my business partner, dear friend and partner in all things shopper WSL’s President Candace Corlett. She runs all our proprietary How America Shops®, and how the world shops research, amongst many other things at WSL. Hello, Candace.

Candace  00:34
Hi there, Wendy. Nice to be back on Future Shop,

Wendy  00:37
We’re adding a new segment to Future Shop today. It’s called What’s Up at WSL. But really just What’s Up. From today on in between our longer form interviews with retail leaders and innovators, we’re going to share with you a sneak peek of what the WSL team is seeing emerge in all our research retail innovation work around the world, we’re going to focus on one or two burning topics or issues that you should know about now. So you can understand where we’re headed and where shoppers are headed.  So that’s the intro drumroll for our new section.  So Candace, What’s Up in your world of WSL research? And what do we all need to be thinking about now? Do I not wait for the real drumroll? Oh, she want me to do? Your drum? I could I could

Candace  01:29
In the last study, we did you know, where shoppers are revealing their new path to purchase post COVID. One of the things that startled me is how many years our retail clients and their manufacturer partners have been working on differentiation, because there’s so many supermarkets along the way drugstores on every corner, why would I choose to make a left turn to go into this one instead of a right turn to go into that one. And it’s a challenge. And it’s a challenge that our numbers suggest they haven’t mastered. Yet, there’s been a slight uptick in the number of people who choose to go to one retailer for everything for specific categories. So if I’m a skincare person, I only buy it in this place. But the key differentiator that’s taking people to one retailer is this store carries brands that I can’t get anyplace else. So the differentiation seems to be coming from the unique brands, but of greater concern is that a quarter of shoppers don’t have any regular retailer for anything. And that numbers on the rise. It’s picked up six points in the last five years. And that’s disconcerting for the retailers who are struggling to differentiate. But there’s clues as always, and what the shoppers are telling us on why this is happening.

Wendy  02:59
Yeah, it’s so interesting, you say that, because I remember work we did for one of the very large us retailers a number of years ago, and their focus was so much on Well, we’ve got busy families, and they want to get everything done under one roof. And this work, I remember when you know, first walk the rest of us through it, this work would indicate you know, I’ll do it wherever I am.

Candace  03:25
Well, and that is what is compounding the challenge brands and retailers used to count on understanding the shoppers path to purchase, and you’re right, efficiency meant I go into one store, I get a lot done under one roof. Or I’m a frugal shopper. So efficiency for me is lining up the stores I go to to take advantage of the sales, and I get it all done in one trip. Now the definition of efficiency has changed having a list. You know, when I shop for my family, when everybody was young, you have a list and you went up and down the aisles and you got everything on the list. Now I have an online list and I go down and check off the things I want to reorder. And it’s all list driven. But what more shoppers are telling us is that I just pick things up wherever I happen to be, because I know I’m probably gonna need it. And then it’s off my list. And that applies to whether I’m buying toothpaste or first aid or bottled water or household cleansers or laundry detergent, coffee. I just pick it up where I see it. So I don’t run out. And that’s what I call spontaneous shopping is the new efficiency.

Wendy  04:44
You know what’s interesting about that, too, is obviously we’ve all lived through and continuing to live through this pandemic. And we saw this what you’re talking about this spontaneity emerging before the pandemic way before right?

Candace  04:57
Oh, yes, yes.

Wendy  05:00
So as we move out, and you know, people tried to reduce the number of trips they made and all of this, how do I have to think about our clients have to think about this now, as the world opens up again?

Candace  05:12

Well, like so many things in life coming out of this pandemic, it’s a time to really step back and assess what we don’t know. And what will we do differently? You know, what is it been 18 months, almost, let’s not waste the lessons of the pandemic, by continuing to do the things that were really inefficient in our lives, or that made our lives harder. And one of those areas is how do I get my shopping done? How do I get my basic shopping done, and that’s what we’re talking about. Here, it’s shopping for the basics that you need to fill the pantry to keep everybody in the house happy. It’s not, you know, the browsing through gift shops, and interesting clothing or accessories. It’s for the basics. And what people are saying is, I’ve been in the habit, really, since 2016, is when we first saw this emerging, I just pick stuff up as I go. And when we think about execution at retail, the DIY stores Home Depot, in particular, have given over huge square footage, to household supplies. And it’s in response to this urge from shoppers, if I see laundry detergent, household cleaners, paper towels, I’ll pick them up while I’m in the Home Depot. And then I’ve got it and it’s one less aisle I have to go down to when I’m in the regular supermarket.

Wendy  06:35
So the other part of that that’s interesting to me. And I was thinking about this in the context of online shopping because even there, this is spontaneity, right? I’m online, looking for a birthday present to ship to a relative somewhere around the world. And all of a sudden, either something pops up, or I remember that actually did happen this weekend that I was out of mosquito bug thing he stuff. And I thought oh gee, could I just get that while I’m here. So there I was buying x and I clicked on to buy why. And it was even in that digital space, spontaneity was part of how I just got something off my list, something I was about to forget.

Candace  07:17
And I think we are all walking proof of spontaneity is the new efficiency, you don’t have to think about bugs, right? Probably for the rest of the summer, you’re set, take it off your mental list, take it off your shopping list. And that’s what people are saying there are certain categories, even if I get home and I discover I already have one, that’s okay, I’m going to use it, it won’t go to waste. And now I don’t have to think about it for two or three months.

Wendy  07:45
So you know what else has springs to my mind, which I think is really important for all our listeners to think about too, is coming out of the pandemic. The issue for a lot of retailers is traffic in the stores, because a lot of people are buying online, as we’ve all seen, and we see in our own research. How do we think about this in our mind’s eye because it’s not the people may not be in the store, it may be that the bug spray that I used to look for an aisle seven. Now I bought it somewhere else. So it’s if I’m just looking at normal metrics, I would say, oh, Wendy’s in the store. But in fact, I’m not down that aisle because I bought spontaneously somewhere else. So the way we look at measuring and the way we look at path to purchase requires a different really a different way of thinking.

Candace  08:29
Yes, and well said coming out of this upheaval in the way we buy our basic goods to be remembered is don’t presume that what you knew two years ago applies today. And it’s not just about the migration of consumer packaged goods, to online shopping or to curbside pickup. It’s about this spontaneity, of if I see it, I buy it. And retailers have been pretty good about putting merchandise in front of shoppers almost, you know, you almost tripped over it with your cart, because they know they can’t count on this going up and down every aisle anymore. But when you get online to shop, where is that spontaneity? Where is the pop up? That reminds me? Oh, Pepsi is on sale. Let me grab some of that. I mean, that’s one of the spontaneous categories or toothpaste. You know, we can always use more toothpaste. How are we going to create that pop up without irritating shoppers, but in a way that gets them to put more things into their virtual cart?

Wendy  09:43
So what are the categories that we’ve seen that are the most spontaneous categories? Are they the obvious ones?

Candace  09:50
Well, I don’t know what you might consider obvious but it’s certainly bottled water, anything in oral care first aid, nothing more frustrating than needing a band aid and You don’t have any and lighters, the lighters that you use to like the fireplace or like the outside torches, something that you might not think of buying. And then of course, laundry care, carbonated beverages home fragrance coffee, a new form of vitamin

Wendy  10:17
in that first list is things that we never want to be without. So that when if we see it, we think, gee, I’ve got it, I haven’t got a it won’t hurt if I buy an extra one. Let me buy it now is that a bucket? And then the other bucket is I don’t know home fragrance. I don’t know me coffee, that’s definitely something I never want to be without, right?

Candace  10:36
Well, and or home fragrance, I’m tempted by a new scent, or it’s a new form a hand and body moisturizers. I see a new center a new form, or a new brand. And I want to try it or a new promise, it’s taken out the chemicals and replaced it with natural fragrances.

Wendy  10:54
So that feels a lot like the days when we would say there’s something new it surprised me. I didn’t know it was there. Oh, I’ll buy that, like the impulse of that, right. But I was trying to figure out those sort of other essentials, if I’m a retailer or a manufacturer. And now I’m thinking, What’s my strategy for spontaneous purchasing?

Candace  11:13
You know what I think is the wonder of today, retailers have become so willing to test. And they have quick metrics to help them understand what succeeds, what doesn’t. And I would say that it’s going to be different in every department. And every aisle, if I’m in the beauty department, or if I’m in the OTC aisle, what our content tells us is digestive aids are a spontaneous category. And when you can understand another category, if someone needs to digestive aid, they don’t want to be without that relief. But it’s almost like take the shopper challenge and start experimenting and see which categories do respond to the spontaneous buy Home Depot didn’t suddenly give over all this space to household goods without testing it. And it’s really easy to do that now.

Wendy  12:08
So as we sort of step up and step back from this, as I think about it, now if I’m a an insights person, a category manager or a shopper marketer, a brand builder, whoever, whatever my role is, I now I mean, there was always that thing we wanted was that strip, you put on the into something and they had all the clip strips, the clip strips in the day, right? You always had to have your chapstick there or something or remember the days of the Tylenol store and there was a little four by four display because you never want to be out of your pain medication or something or batteries at Christmas, right? You never wanted to be out of batteries. But it sounds to me in addition to those obvious things that now whether we’re doing a digital shop or a physical shop, this sort of strategy to support spontaneity, so that in a hurry strategy to support spontaneity,

Candace  12:57
well done.

Wendy  12:58
Thank you, I’ll try that again. The third time, it won’t work.

Candace  13:01
No, don’t don’t risk if you did it once or twice as good.

Wendy  13:05
So if I think about that, I really do have to say separately, am I going to lose an opportunity, if not a trip something in the basket because I don’t understand the dynamics of whether my product or my category is one of these spontaneous ones, that shoppers will buy wherever they happen to go. So that feels like something that’s I need to add that to my list if I’m a marketer or a sales, you know, customer, team lead or any of that today,

Candace  13:34
and wearing my brand management hat that took off quite a while ago, this is a very exciting opportunity for brand strategists to go to retailers and say, let’s give this a go and see how many people want to just pick this up because they saw it. And because it’s right in front of them, and it’s something that people don’t want to run out of.

Wendy  13:54
Yeah. So to wrap this first What’s Up, up that feels to me like something we should all put in our shopping list. But I I do think that whole piece about whether I’m online, click and collect whether I’m in the store only regardless, I have to really think about this in ways that that notion of everything under one roof feels like very old world to me.

Candace  14:19
But you know, and that is what’s up now in shopping. It’s legitimate for certain segments of shoppers on certain trips. And it’s not right for other shoppers for certain categories on other trips. It’s almost like the shopper has said it’s all about me and just follow me and you’ll win because I go different paths.

Wendy  14:45
So that’s what’s on our mind today at WSL. The fact that one in four shoppers in our How America Shops® research report that they don’t have any regular retailer where they buy many of their everyday essentials categories is an issue. That’s a call to action to all of you. You need to understand the nuances of which category which shop which trip. So you can create a strategy to support this because actually, as Candace said, spontaneity is the new efficiency. And that’s what many shoppers demand now. Now you know why that’s on our mind. For more detail on this study how to purchase it, and for all our latest shopper and retail research, go to our website at and you’ll have it all at your fingertips. Thanks for listening to What’s Up. See in the future.

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