In this episode:

Wendy Liebmann talks to Debbie Kelly, the new Director of Insights at WSL, about WSL’s latest How America Shops® study, entitled Leading Shoppers From Troubles to Joy.

They discuss:

  • After three years of the pandemic, how shoppers are making different decisions about what brings them joy, and what’s still only about the lowest price.
  • What makes for joyful shopping in these inflationary times.
  • New shopper segmentation based on how shoppers consider what’s a “head” category versus a “heart” category.
  • How companies – brands and retailers — need to market accordingly.
  • Who’s getting it right.

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Watch the video episode:

Wendy 00:09

Hello, everyone. I'm Wendy Liebmann, CEO and chief shopper at WSL Strategic Retail and you get it… this is Future Shop. This is where I talk to innovators, disruptors and iconoclasts, about the future of retail. Today, I have a new disrupter in our midst. Deborah, also known as Debbie, Kelly. She is a new member of the WSL family and our new head of insights. She has a great background in CPG companies, consulting, with a deep experience in shopper insights, Category Management and Research. Hello, Debbie. Welcome to Future Shop.

Debbie 00:53

Hi, Wendy. It's great to be here. I am a podcast newbie.

Wendy 00:57

Well, not in listening. Right. But in participating?

Debbie 01:00

Of course not. Yes. First time on camera.

Wendy 01:03

Well, there you go. I'm sure it'll be lovely. And we'll have a great time. And you know, all of those things talking everything shopper. So before we jump into our latest How America Shops® research, and what's going on in our WSL shopper-centric world, tell us a little bit about you, especially why you're so passionate about shoppers and shopping.

Debbie 01:26

So you know, back when I started my career, I was really more focused on marketing. And as I evolved, I was really curious to understand why people did what they did. And that really was the beginning of my journey leading into insights. There's just so much nuance, and I just love getting into the depth behind the why, for specific brands for specific categories. And being able to touch different categories learn new things all the time. It's a lot of fun.

Wendy 02:15

Yeah, well, you've already had a chance to do that with us. So welcome to the family officially. So the first How America Shops® study you've actually had your little fingers into is one that we call with a sort of strange and elongated title, just released last week or so, called Leading shoppers from Troubles to Joy. I've shortened that to the Joy study, which is, seems to me like I'll remember that one. But anyway, so the first question I always ask Candace, when she's playing this game with me is why the heck did we do this study and why now.

Debbie 02:53

So you know, unfortunately, there really have been heavy troubles on people's minds for a couple of years. So we've had the pandemic, we've had political and social polarization. People have lost loved ones, there's heightened anxiety and depression, there's a lot of things going on, not only in the US, but in the world that really are weighing on people. At the same time, we are acknowledging that we were also just reading about the fact that the new happiness work is going to be coming out. This is global work. There's a study that's done every year on the happiest countries in the world. And we knew that was gonna be coming out, we thought, Gee, I wonder how all of these things are impacting shoppers in the US how they feel, how that impacts what they do, what they choose to do with their time, how they shop where they shop. And that was really the genesis of thinking about diving into this and understanding that relationship.

Wendy 03:44

You know, it's really interesting about that. It's so just what you described as so much the way we do things. Sorry, everybody, this is the pitch. You know, it's that broader context. We did a study back in 2016, I think, called Buying Happiness. And it was where we saw this shift in shoppers’ attitudes, people's attitudes to what was important to them. And although that sounded quite crass, Buying Happiness, and I remember we had a little tug of war in the office about really, we calling it that, but it was this sort of shift from people talking about what was important to them now is financial stability, less stress in their life, and how they could think about and support their families, their communities, and the broader world at hand. And all those added up to what was part of happiness. And I think you're absolutely right in all of this is that even then these moments of supreme difficulty people, shoppers find ways to get those moments of joy. And if we understand that, that opens a door as CPG companies, retailers, and others to really finding solutions and new opportunities. So you had me at the happiness index, so you're right. It's not difficult to understand that troubles that we've all been going through. And I don't think maybe you did throw inflation into that.

Debbie 05:05

If I didn't, I should have. So thank you, you should have

Wendy 05:09

been a good collaboration. That's what we do. So what are shop is telling us about the troubles? And then how do we see that? How are we thinking about that? Or how are they revealing themselves in the little joys?

Debbie 05:23

One of the things that is really interesting is that we saw that right now, people's incomes are really tied to whether they feel like they're living their best life, and how happy they are. And although that may be surprising, it is, unfortunately, a reality for so many people. You know, the reality is that we found that a third of shoppers think their finances are secure. That's a really low number, it's down 12 points from July of last year, people are just not sure what's coming next, they're still spending cautiously. But there really is still a bright side to this. It doesn't mean it's all doom and gloom, it doesn't mean people are tightening their wallets, it just means that they're choosing very carefully what they want to spend on

Wendy 06:06

that number is quite substantial. That and we ask, just for those listening or watching, what we do is we ask people, it's kind of a benchmark question we asked a lot about their financial security, and we asked them about, they're feeling optimistic in the future, secure or pessimistic. That ‘secure” number that you just mentioned, I'm going to get you to mention it again. It's really extraordinary that it's so reflects this current mindset of how people are feeling. So tell me that number one more time,

Debbie 06:37

it's 1/3 of shoppers think their finances are secure. And as I mentioned, that's down 12 points from July of last year. And this is a study where we're using the same type of representative sample. So you know, this isn't something we were talking to different shoppers, this is a real change in unfortunately, the negative direction.

Wendy 06:55

And we've watched this everybody through if you're ever if you're looking for this content, we have it. We've watched this prior to COVID during COVID. And now as we're moving into this officially from the government standpoint, post COVID period, this is really something that's important. But Debbie, you made the point, though, it's not necessarily that people are saying no to everything, or just in case no to everything. But actually, they're making interesting and different types of choices, right?

Debbie 07:24

Absolutely. One of the things that people are absolutely paying for is convenience. And that can be in the form of faster shipping, or getting food to my door, so I don't have to leave my house to get it. So people are willing to pay for whether it's an Uber Eats, or GrubHub, or an annual membership at a retailer. So they don't have to worry about what's the, you know, the dollar total of their basket to reach that free shipping. There are so many things that people are saying, You know what, this is worth it to me, even within the food category, it could be pre-cut vegetables, it's across the board, that people are looking for ways to save time and save energy.

Wendy 08:03

So that convenience factor is not just it's on the corner. It's just that that equation that people have developed in terms of the quality of their life of is it sort of the time wallet as well as the money wallet, right? Yeah, that's

Debbie 08:17

a great way to look at it. Time is money. Yeah, that's right. And now we've heard

Wendy 08:21

that a lot. But now we have so many places, sometimes it sounds so simplistic and obvious. But we have so many ways to be time efficient, especially since we're remaining to juggle many things from jobs to choices of lifestyle, and things, or not choices. So people are willing to pay for time saving, are there other things that you saw that maybe surprised you or didn't about things that people are willing to spend on?

Debbie 08:50

The other thing that's really interesting, again, because we know these are people who are struggling, they may be challenged to pay their rent, or their electric bill, but people really still want to pay on, you know, what we're calling kind of small rewards or indulgent treats. Nearly half of people said that they still are really treating themselves in small ways. It could be a cup of coffee, it could be you know, buying themselves some sort of beauty product that makes them feel good when they walk out the door everyday. Maybe Wendy for you that might be your lipstick as an example. But you know, and even that food delivery. The point is that even if you feel like you have to watch every penny, everybody's still just really wants small pleasures. And maybe you can't go on a huge vacation. Maybe you can't buy a new car, but people are willing to do it in smaller ways that still give them those small moments of joy.

Wendy 09:43

It is interesting too. I was thinking about small moments of joy. I was talking to somebody about loyalty programs, or really most of them are kind of discount programs. And I was saying My joy is the gaming of the discounts. So thinking about you know if I use these dollars off, and I use this 30% off coupon and I use I never thought I would do that because that to me was a trade-off to time I just had no interest in doing that. Now what I'm finding, and mother-in-law study of one although I have spoken to a few other people and we may go out and measure that in the next study, thank you can make a note, is that there is a joyfulness sometimes in that, you know, so it's being a smart shopper and that ability to say, Wow, the bill was 100. But actually I just saved $50 Thank you, CVS, and my Extra Bucks. Because I was smart about what I bought, when. And it is to me, the sort of gaming the fun of it, where before I would have been like do not bother me. So I think that's interesting. If we dig beyond the obvious here, there's that sentiment that reveals some ways to engage people and make them feel smart and joyful. And and those kinds of things, I think, yes,

Debbie 10:58

absolutely. You know, that reminds me of a question we got from one of our clients recently, where they're really trying to reconcile some of the learning that we had just shared with them, which is that Gen Z in particular, is a generation that appeared to be kind of a little bit more frugal in terms of their spending, and they're using coupons, and they're shopping in more stores. But yet they also are receiving joy from things that are more material. So their question was, how is that possible? Those two seem in contradiction. And you know, part of the answer is that they're not necessarily materialistic in terms of, you know, a big flashy car or the way you might think about, you know, glitz and glam of the 80s. But exactly what you're talking about, there is pride in being a savvy shopper. And that means that if you want a premium brand, and you know, you can get a better deal somewhere else, you're going to get a better deal. Or you're going to layer your coupons or you're going to wait and use your Extra Bucks and your 40% off coupon. And there's something that gives you a little bit of pleasure about doing that. So it's a really important point to be made that saving money isn't just about tightening the wallet, there is also a little bit of that satisfaction that comes out of it.

Wendy 12:00

And there also is that, and this is again, you know, the nuances of what we do, when we don't just take the obvious response, we dig to your point, you'd like to understand the whys. So you're constantly asking more questions as we go into this work. But there is also that sense of community sharing. Karin, who runs our office, and I were having a long conversation about the coffee that she introduced me to when we were all in the office all the time. And I've now buy it and use it a lot at home. But realizing that Wow, I am using up a lot of that coffee, which is a no no, there's a special deal on this place. You can go to Amazon to get the 24 container on thing. I live in an apartment where I'm going to put these 24 contests. But I realized at half the price, I'm like, Okay, I'm gonna figure that out. But it was the sort of fun of that conversation. So anyway, I'm rambling on. But I think that's to your point about, sometimes things look very obvious or contradictory that you really, do particularly now, after not only three years of COVID, but all of these other places that we have the opportunity to shop, and decisions we choose to make about things that actually there is much more nuance and subtlety. And you cannot necessarily take the obvious as what it meant before. You really do have to dig into it. So that's why I'm glad you're in the house because I know you're a digger into things like the rest of us are. So it's good.

Debbie 13:29

One of the things that you mentioned also, you mentioned the word community in terms of your contacts with Karin, and the coffee. And that just made me think about something else a little bit more related to community that really came to light in the study. And it has to do with what contributes to people's overall life satisfaction and living your best life. And one of the things that I found fascinating is that we saw really high scores on simple acts of kindness, and much lower scores on things like donating to charities or volunteering. And I think you know, what that says is that people really like those small connections, getting a new brand of coffee, because you have that interaction, it could be holding the door for somebody, maybe you see somebody who you know, dropped something at a store and they've got a a kid screaming in the cart, you know, you help them pick it up those types of things, regardless of the fact that it feels like we live in this polarized world where a lot of people don't get along, people still get an incredible amount of joy. It was two thirds of people are still getting a lot of life satisfaction out of really just small acts of kindness and interacting with other people.

Wendy 14:32

That's such a great insight because people might say, yeah, well I'm in the vitamin business or I'm in the soda business or I'm in the pharmaceutical business. Where does that relate? You think about the what I've always called the laying on of hands. And how is it that you can touch people emotionally? Think about retail, right? The physical retail store where people actually have a chance to engage whether it's the person who says good morning, how are you, welcome, or, you know, remembers or, as you said, helps with a child. Publix supermarkets have always been really good about having disabled people work on their packing bags and helping people out of the car with their shopping carts. And I've always thought that's an extraordinarily wonderful, emotional, small act of kindness on their part, not on mine, but on their part to help. And those are things I think as we think about how does physical retail deliver these small acts of kindness, or translate to that, that becomes really, really powerful. And when people are thinking about hiring people, who do they want to work in their stores? How do they recognize them so they feel good about their jobs? And then what does that do to reflect on my brands that are on the shelves? So I think that's a really interesting insight that you've called from that. The other thing you talked about, as you were writing and analyzing the data and writing the report is, you know, this whole new way to think about categories. You talked about Heart categories and Head categories. And that to me was interesting, because, you know, I mean, there are a lot of categories that are everyday categories from paper towels to milk, I guess. But as we think about that, as companies or retailers, tell us a little bit about that. What does that reveal, if I'm a Heart category versus a Head category?

Debbie 16:25

just to give a little bit of background. So when we were asking people about, you know, head versus heart, what we were describing, and making sure everybody was interpreting those terms, the same way, is that if you're deciding with your head, it's really more about a practical choice. And primarily, your thinking cost is one of those factors. Or if it's your head, it's about something that's going to really make you feel good. And it's because you want to do it, not necessarily because you need to do it. And one of the things that we saw is that there are categories, and some of them were surprising to me, that are really more heart categories. And so these are things that are make you feel good. And one of the things at the top of the list was alcoholic beverages like spiked seltzers, and beer, even carbonated beverages and beauty products, you know, so things where we were talking about before about those small indulgences just kind of connect these themes. If we're saying that half the people are willing to spend on something that makes them feel good and spend on some sort of small reward. The categories that are really guided more by your heart are the ones where people are probably going to be more willing to say, You know what, I am going to just spend to get myself that great beer as an example, the one I want, not just the cheapest one on the shelf. And you know, the flipside, of course, is that there are categories that are more practical. So it could be, you know, household cleaners, a lot of the over counter type drugs you'd find in a drugstore, even vitamins, things like that, were much more practical. And things like the price and more of the typical things you'd think about we'e guiding people's decisions for

Wendy 18:01

those. Yeah, I think lipstick and a great cocktail sounds pretty, very heady, hearty to me, not to think about. But it is interesting. And you know, again, to the listeners, the viewers, that is so what does that mean? Well, it does mean how you talk about those, right? Whether it's in your shopper marketing, whether it's in your promotional materials, if you're a retailer, whether it's how you organize or segment things in a store, there is a different if you take that lens, as opposed to well, all brands or all categories are equal, or all shelves are equal in the store or online. You know, when you think about that level of communication, whether it's on Tiktok or on your you know, your regular website, those things, if we understand that, then the language that goes around that, the promotional tools you might use, the campaign's you use can be bucketed in ways that actually engage with what shoppers want, and what their missions are in much more effective ways. And just figuring all brands categories are are equal. It was interesting, I just had got off a call with somebody in London just now who was doing launching a new business. And we were talking about that. And she asked me the question about do I have to add loyalty programs? And what does that look like? And whatever? Do I have to have sales every six months, three months, whatever. And we talked about how do you think more about the value of the experience and the place and the community? And what's that worth to people? And how do you do you have to discount all the time? Or can you find other ways to add value? And I think that sort of lens that you created between heart and head is a very interesting way to think about how do you position a brand or a category or a retailer in a way that is different and feels more appropriate to how people are thinking about their joys, their little joys today. So I thought that was really revealing. And I want to do a whole segmentation thing which you might do,

Debbie 20:11

what you're talking about reminds me of a category that worked at which is cookies, love cookies, love chocolate. So anything that has chocolate is the best kind of cookie for me. But even when you think about brands within a category, what came to mind for me in terms of those differences you were talking about, when you think about a brand like a Pepperidge Farm Milano, there are not a ton of cookies in the bag. And I will tell you from my own insight work working on Pepperidge Farm in my past, there are a lot of women who purchase a bag of Milanos and hide them in their cabinet, because they do not want the family members, particularly the kids plowing through the cookies, because you know, they cost a lot and they they probably don't enjoy them as much. But that same woman who might be in the store looking for a cookie that her kids can have, she is going to buy that one with her head where she bought the Milano nwith her heart because she wants to get the most cookie she's can to stuff her kids who don't really have a very sophisticated palate. So even within a category, you can see brands that really do have different roles or play different roles with touching your head versus your heart

Wendy 21:11

Yeah, it's interesting you say that, because that yes, you're going there, I was actually thinking you were saying put it in the freezer. So you don't need them all at once, which is kind of what I do, but doesn't work for Milanos. But you know, chocolate cake, put it in the freezer, and then hopefully forget that it's in there because it was a sharp knife, right? Oh, revealing too much. The other thing I was thinking about that was perfect example, we heard a lot in in more qualitative ethnographic work that we did about hair products. Mom or dad would be buying themselves, the salon professional, something that costs a fortune, and then buying the kids the big bucket of whatever, because of the spill anyway. And we have to think about who mom or dad were on that trip at that moment when they're in the aisle, was it for them? Or was it for the kids or the dog or the cat or whatever. So I do think these are ways that we really need I mean, just shows your category skills. These are ways we really do need to think differently now as we push on as to how we think about segmenting our businesses and, and the marketing we support and how we even think from a retailer perspective, how to market and promote those things, which makes it really, really, really interesting. You talked about, you know, I was always a big surprise and something that in a new piece of research, there's always one, you talked about little treats, was there anything else there that kind of got a bit you on the nose? And you said, look at that

Debbie 22:36

there were interesting things that popped out in particular, about generations, I think, you know, one of the things that we're really seeing is that people who have probably more experience with life, and have probably been through more challenges so boomers, as an example, are more likely to be living their best life. And those folks that are younger generations, they are more likely to be living not their best life. They may have more ability to kind of see how things can change in the future. But what was interesting and striking for me is that the younger generations, you always think there's so much hope. And there's so much ability to kind of change and influence the future. So the fact that there wasn't more of those younger generations, making up that group of living their best life, I think that was a little bit surprising to me. And I'm hoping that something this is, you know, this is something we're really interested in. And we're gonna wind up doing a study like this again in the future to really track this. And I am hoping that we will see that that starts to shift as we get further away from the troubles and more to the joy.

Wendy 23:42

Yeah, I could only wish right more or less troubles more joy. So that's why I think people are so keen on finding their own little moments of happiness, wherever they may be, chocolate in the freezer, or something else. It did strike me as you were talking, I was thinking then about retailers. And again, most of you know that we do all our retail innovation work in addition to all our shopper insights work and research, whether it's for you as custom clients, or for those who subscribe to our services. And just a reminder of all the Retail Safaris® and innovation work we do around the world. And one of the things that I started to think about coming out of this research is who's doing it? Who's getting it right? I'm perpetually talking about Five Below which people must assume I have shares in, which I do not. But it's such a joyful, it's that sort of little things that I need. Maybe I the kids a little treat, it's joyfulness about $5 for a stress relief ball or things like that. I don't know they're just I'm looking for more of those examples. I know we've got a whole Retail Safari® so look at on our website, everybody and you'll see but I don't know if you found your own personnel happy retail joy lately, because I'd love to hear what you've got on yours.

Debbie 25:04

One of the things I didn't see this in person myself, but it's something that we came across through our Retail Safari® team. And I know you know, when you that we have folks around the world who are always sending things into us, there was a durable medical equipment store. So they had things like medical chairs, and wheelchairs, and canes. And one of the things that really struck me is the tonality of the language in that store, and the experience. So you envision yourself, anyone that needs to go to that store has obviously got some physical challenges. And that might not be such a happy thing. But by the canes, they had signs about sexy walking and strutting your stuff. And you know, they had this chair that they were talking about, the handrails could double as pull up bars. And you know, in my mind, that is just the epitome of taking what could be a really depressing shopping trip and somebody who is suffering with challenges with mobility, and adding a smile, you know, you're going to be there, you got to get this stuff. Let's think about it. You know, let's strut your stuff. So something like that. I found really inspiring. That is really stuck out for me.

Wendy 26:13

Yeah, I thought you said an adorable, durable medical supplies store. thinking wow, and adorable, durable. So first of all, you gotta say it. And secondly, adorable, but you're absolutely right. I remember that. That's a store in London. And it's absolutely true. You know, I want to when I'm, hopefully not too soon on a cane, I want to be, you know, having a sexy cane or strutting my stuff and all of those things. So

Debbie 26:38

well, Wendy, you know, I'm thinking that maybe we need to reach out to them and let them know that this could be the next big area, not just a durable, but the adorable, maybe they should have started having exactly that could be the next wave of innovation, let's let them know.

Wendy 26:52

We love it, I love it, we'll send them an email immediately. So as you step back and think about what our clients need to do, or our friends and family who are listening into this, you know, whether they're in the product space, CPG, space, retail space, we have people who are in the movie and entertainment space, you know, is it something that sort of stands out and strikes you from all of this troubles to joy?

Debbie 27:16

So one of the things that I have been reading a lot about in the news is premiumization, and how there are a lot of brands, particularly through inflation, that have been looking for opportunities to raise price or manage profit. And, you know, we all understand that businesses are there to make money. So there's nothing wrong with that. But I think one of the things that this research really highlights and is important for any client to remember is that times are tough for people. And what that means is, is that they may not just be thinking about you versus your competition, and do I want the mainstream version of the premium, and how much am I willing to pay? People are opting out of categories entirely. So sometimes as a manufacturer, and you know, I've been in that seat in my past, you're so focused on your shopper in your category, and It's you versus your competition, and how much price are they taking. And how much should we take that you forget that maybe they just opt out of the category altogether. So realizing what these macro pressures are, and how they're impacting people, I think is a really big piece that we don't want to miss. But as I mentioned earlier, there really are some bright spots here, because there are people, even with challenging budgets that are willing to spend money. You know, we talked about convenience, we talked about people willing to pay more for saving time and energy, and those small indulgences, particularly in those heart categories. So I think whether you're a retailer or whether you're a manufacturer, really stepping back and acknowledging the world that we're living in, the challenges people are facing, and finding ways to really stand out with a unique experience or message that is acknowledging a shoppers reality and helping plug them into those little moments of joy.

Wendy 29:00

Well, usually, I do a wrap up at the end of this. But I think actually that is the perfect wrap up, which is why I'm very glad you're in the space, because now I don't have to think about what you just said for the last half an hour. So thank you for that. I do think what you've shared and everybody go to our website, you know what it is, because you will see not only more about this study and the Retail Safari® work that we've talked about, but lots more content and thinking that we're doing and I really think as Debbie says, you cannot assume that what something looked like even six or 12 months ago, and what the context of your competitive environment was even six to 12 months ago remains. And you really do have to challenge the orthodoxy about your aisle or your category or your store or your website constantly now because shoppers are just as always moving on into the future. So thank you for all that Debbie and to everyone thank you and we'll see you in the future. Cheers

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