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Shopper Trends|September 13, 2021

The New Shopper Truths with Candace Corlett | Future Shop Podcast

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In this episode:

Wendy Liebmann and Candace Corlett preview WSL’s latest How America Shops® research, The New Shopper Truths. The study reveals the now entrenched shopper values that define how companies need to position themselves and communicate to shoppers in the coming years.

They discuss:

  • That “fairness” is now the underpinning of what shoppers expect from companies
  • How shoppers question the way companies deliver sustainability (not well), and how they have turned an important value into merely a buzzword
  • That shoppers are frustrated -- they cannot do it all alone, and they expect companies they buy from to share the burden, to show up, to make a difference, and
  • How Generation Z is very different from Millennials in attitudes and expectations around these new truths and values

Click here for more details on this report.


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

Podcast Transcript

Wendy  00:00

Hello, my name is Wendy Liebmann.

Candace  00:02

And my name is Candace Corlett.

Wendy  00:04

We're from WSL Strategic Retail and this is Future Shop. This is where we talk to innovators and disruptors about the future of retail. Today, the innovators and disruptors in our room are the American shoppers. Not surprising because they usually disrupt our tried and true retail practices when we as an industry do not deliver what they want. So Candace and I are going to discuss today our latest How America Shops® research hot off the presses. So you're getting a preview here. And we're going to share with you what shoppers are telling us right now, what they expect for their future retail from all of us, or else. So thank you for joining me again, Candace.

Candace  00:45

My pleasure, Wendy.

Wendy  00:47

So this new work, what was the inspiration that really got us going, as we thought about what's the next subject that we need to really be investigating from a shopper and retailer perspective?

Candace  01:00

I was writing something and typed the word sustainability. And in my mind, I said that has become such a trite word, I don't even know what it means anymore. And we set out to explore what are the new values that are emerging? We've been using words like sustainable and clean and free-from and natural for so long and fair trade. And I was wondering if shoppers even knew what they meant anymore.  And how were they defining them? And, you know, like, with all of our research, I'm perfectly willing to be proven wrong, and learn the shoppers really do have a very clear definition of these. But my hunch was, these words had become trite, overused, buzzwords

Wendy  01:56

for everybody listening, many of you know this already about the way we continue to investigate subjects of importance to our shoppers, and as a result to our clients. This is an ongoing process. And we constantly with our teams are building hypotheses, writing things up on a wall, challenging this sort of typical orthodoxy of how things are viewed or how we do things in the retail community. Because otherwise, if we're not very careful, we end up assuming we know at all, and then we, as an industry find ourselves in a big hole. The way Candace is talking about this, I think is really valuable insight into this continuous process that we have of observation, and listening and developing ideas and theories and hypotheses for our future testing. Candace, this is this actually goes beyond, I'm going to call the good earth values, right? I mean, we're in this we're looking beyond sustainability, in terms of broader values, right?

Candace  03:07

Well, and to build what you were saying about the process to, you know, once we sort of germinate these theories and discuss it with our team, the best thing then is to get on the phone with clients. And I'm always in awe, you know, we're on the same wavelength. They are sitting back and saying, has anybody done any work to prioritize? What are the elements of saving time? What are the elements of sustainability? How do we figure those out? It came together very well.

Wendy  03:41

So what are the biggest aha is in there? The aha is the biggest

Candace  03:46

aha for me is that the number one emerging value is fairness. And shoppers express that in terms of, you know, humane treatment for all workers, fairer wages, less carbon footprint, equal opportunity, a more equal distribution of corporate wealth among all the employees, and we're able to roll that up into it's a fairness movement. There's this concept that everyone should have affordable access to choices that express their values, whether that's buying healthier food, which is the obvious -- one organic in my neighborhood at prices I can afford, or it's buying more sustainable choices, like extra large refillable things for household cleaning, and laundry and all, sharing in less carbon footprint and climate change by making electric cars available to more people. There is this sense that we have to give everyone access to good care and better choices. When I think about the retailers that are the buzz, and we're all talking about, and by we all, I don't just mean ourselves in the industry. But if you sit around a table and ask people, where do you shop differently in the last couple of months, all the legal role of their time. And it's like this huge discovery. It's this great discovery of a retailer that has good products, and everyone then lists off their favorites. It's like Trader Joe's five years ago, what are your favorites from Trader Joe's? What are your favorites at Aldi and Lidl?  And you know, the emphasis on healthy choices at Aldi and breadth of selection at Lidl.  That's what people are talking about.

Wendy  05:40

What's so interesting about this concept of fairness, it comes out of work we did five, six years ago, when we were talking about shoppers feeling everything was very mediocre, no standout choices, whether it was brands, or retailers or medical practices or politicians.  The pandemic seems to have exposed the cracks in all of this.  From what we're seeing, in this new work, this notion of fairness, there is this reality, right of the people who are on the front lines, who did all the work during the pandemic, are they being paid fairly? Are they being taken care of fairly? Also the split between those of us who are able to continue working and those who were not, or those of us who've been challenged by, you know, maybe evictions and those who have stock market values that keep going up? Are you seeing that in the work creating that sort of friction or demand for fairness,

Candace  06:40

the delight of the work we produce, and that our clients value so much is we do wrap it in history, fairness, didn't suddenly leap off the page, you know, going back to the debates around health care coverage, and how many people don't have any health care coverage, you know, that starts to sow the seeds. And then the pandemic certainly made us all aware of people who weren't protected, people who will going to work and earning, you know, barely minimum wage and not a livable wage. And that's what we're seeing in our information. It became higher on shoppers’ priority list. are you treating your workers well? iI you're a retailer, how do you show me that you're treating your workers? Well, if you're a brand, how do you show me that you're producing with less carbon footprint and with humane work conditions in your factories? That's the other element of this. We've been through the buzzwords. And in the work we did, we have a lot of quotes from shoppers who said, you know, all of these words are buzzwords, I don't even know what recycled means anymore, other than I recycle, and most of it doesn't get recycled. And I'm not sure what's recyclable. So it's a lot of I don't really believe you anymore, I want you to be fair, and you have to show me how you're being fair.

Wendy  08:06

I think that's the other piece to this. I mean, we all always talk about sort of demonstrative shoppers and willingness to sort of show their views or reflect their views and where they spend. But this feels to me both nuanced, because you could assume as a manufacturer or retailer today, that you kind of understand where shoppers are, there's the sort of big themes that everybody's talking about, to your point, sustainability, greater sense of wellness, saving me time, all of those sort of big tenants that we've been looking at. But one of the things we've talked about internally is this sort of notion of meaningfulness and it feels so soft, it doesn't feel demonstrative enough in the world of retail, what's the right product, the right price right now kind of thing. And yet these values I think we all see now in our all our work and all our retail exposure really feel like they're driving some fundamental change that companies are gonna have to pay attention to

Candace  09:06

What companies are going to have to pay attention to, is legitimate communication. The qualitative work we did around this is filled with examples of people being misled around clean and free-from and healthier ingredients and sustainable behavior. They feel they've been misled, and they don't trust anybody anymore. And that's why the demand, don't just tell me the words, show me what you're doing. And it's a great opportunity, really, to be demonstrative.

Wendy  09:41

Yeah, it is interesting, though, it is “show me” as in not just media communication this sort of totally integrated practices and goals. and very specific Here's what we're about to achieve. Maybe we're not there yet. I know Kroger's done a lot of work around this.  We know Unilever has done a lot of work around this, here are our goals, here are what we're on the road to do, we'll report in to you and tell you where we are. And it feels like it's that sort of really integrated and ingrained approach of sharing the road with shoppers,

Candace  10:23

and standing for something, we have one measure around for retailers that they stand for something, it's apparent what they stand for in their shopping space, whether that's in the store, or online. And there aren't many retailers who come up as standing for anything.  The drug chains do not come up as standing for keeping me healthy. The ones that you can point to over and over again, the warehouse clubs, we know what they stand for. And they deliver. Trader Joe's Whole Foods, and now Aldi and Lidl.  They stand for something and they deliver against it. And once people start to see examples, then that becomes you know, the gold standard. And we all have to perform at that level.

Wendy  11:09

Yeah. And as we think then about manufacturer clients, whether they're in health or beauty, or food, or pets, or fashion, or credit cards, or whatever else they're in, that means they can't depend on the retailers to do all this work. Clearly, they need to be thinking about the way they're delivering this throughout their entire organization, supply chain, product development, research, all of those sorts of things. So I think that in the immediacy, the fact that we've been able to identify what's really important to shoppers now, nationally, I mean, we did the qualitative work to hear the voice. And I thought they some of those interviews were really powerful as they often are. And then, but the quantitative work and looking at across generations and looking at across lifestyles, that opportunity or need from our clients and others to really think very diagnostically about how they're going to deliver a credible message. But we're giving them the tools here, we're giving them the levers, because now they're going to be able to assess what it is that shoppers are really after.

Candace  12:21

The other thing we're clearly seeing is shoppers being very realistic about the power of an individual. And it's almost a conundrum for them. Their job consumed so much of their time their family consumes their time, their goal is to get things done very quickly. And that is often in conflict with what they express as their values. And in the qualitative work we did shoppers told us point blank, this getting stuff delivered the next day or the same day is taking a terrible toll on workers and on the carbon footprint. And how do I back myself up to say, two or three days is fine, I don't need it today or tomorrow. It's really a conflict for them. And the way they have realistically faced it is by saying, I am one person. And even if a gaggle of people got together and decided to behave a certain way, we cannot have as much impact as a large corporation. And that is where we are seeing the shift in responsibility for living values move to the big companies. And that was really clear whether they use the examples of Nike or the large food manufacturers, we can't make better choices, unless the better choices are offered to us.

Wendy  13:47

How does that play out generationally? We talk a lot about the younger generations driving so much of these new values, how are we seeing that play out in this new work?

Candace  14:01

This is a startling report. Because we can no longer lump under 40 together, which would be Generation Z, you know, we measure Generation Z from 16 years old, to their early 20s. And millennials. Millennials are so far ahead in terms of their sense of what's right to do and their conflict about what I can realistically do. Generation Z just doesn't seem to care yet. And you know, we could spend a whole podcast hypothesizing why they're not caring, but they don't.  Their engagement and everything from fairness to carbon footprint is so much lower than millennials. And also attention to these values seems to be the privilege of higher income people because they too are very concerned about what they're doing to impact the earth and to live their values.

Wendy  14:59

But as we think about income related. It isn't that lower income people don't want these things it is that they can't afford these things and their priorities of getting food on the table. And having a job and rent preclude so much of that

Candace  15:16

And when your access is limited to where you can walk through in the neighborhood. And that brings us right full circle to fairness.

Wendy  15:23

That's right. And that talks to me a lot about you raised Aldi and Lidl.   I would also add Dollar General and Dollar Tree into that, and you can understand why those retailers are expanding their offer, looking at adding affordable freshness and healthcare products into those stores.

Candace  15:40

What we can promise to deliver is a very clear rank order of what I call the emerging values of the new consumerism, we can help our clients understand these are the values and this is the form of communication that people expect. And I think for many of our clients who are moving in the direction, but they're not shouting it, you know, they put one or two items on the shelf last among a sea of other items. They're not shouting, their goodness,

Wendy  16:12

Do you think that's because they're not comfortable enough? or certain enough about their ability to tell that story beyond one or two products? Or do you think they just don't get it? No,

Candace  16:25

they get it, Wendy? And you know, whenever I come across something puzzling like this, I just get on the phone with a few of them. And when you hear a story consistently, first of all, it's what you said, if they shouted too loud on one part of the business, does it then have a negative impact on the other parts of the business? And also the legal ramifications of what can I say

Wendy  16:47

The other thing you just made me think about in all of that, too, is the shoppers aren't stupid. We know that thank heavens, and they will come on the journey with a company if the company is clear and transparent (there's another word much overused these days) about where they are on the journey. I mean, we showed the Selfridges flagship the Selfridges store in in London talking about let's change the way we shop, which is all about sustainability and new values. I remember they had a sign in the beauty department that listed their progress over the years in terms of clean products, sustainable products, less packaging, all of that, they didn't say or have not said we are anywhere near perfect, but they said here's the journey we're on. And we will share with you where we are and the goals we've met. And as I say I've seen that here with Kroger and Target and Unilever. It's not that it's going to be perfect, but it feels like letting shoppers know where you are on that journey gives you credibility for being less opaque, and more trustworthy.

Candace  17:53

And bringing it down to the moment when I'm shopping. Because the produce all the accolades about your progress. But then I stand at the shelf, and really don't know what to buy, or why I would choose one over the other, or where I would believe free-from versus natural ingredients. And I think, you know, perhaps another podcast, but we have seen some retailers doing a really good job of explaining it, of bringing it to the shelf of bringing it into the beauty department, the pharmacy, skincare of helping people understand here's the path to get there. And that only happens right at the moment when they're ready to buy. And it gives a whole new meaning to the moment of truth.

Wendy  18:36

Yeah, first moment or zero moment, Procter & Gamble or Google, pick your choice, pick your partner, right and tell the story.

Candace  18:43

It's the moment of truth is when I'm standing there, or sitting there trying to decide what to buy, and have you made your message seem honest and truthful.

Wendy  18:53

That's certainly a guide for 2022 and beyond and how people need to think. It's interesting, because when we did our Future Shop, annual report last year. early this year, we called it “Clarity”.  And in so many ways, this is very clear now about the values that are really important to shoppers. So for all of you listening, know that all of this is available to you.  Go to our website at We will help you navigate what you need and how to get it from all of us. And keep in mind we are able to look at all of this work that Candace and the research team do by category shoppers, by shoppers of specific retailers -- because it's not just one big situational view that says here's what 99% of shoppers want. It's what customers’ shoppers want, and what does it mean by categories and where are the opportunities.  So anyway, that's my last selling pitch for the moment. So, Candace, thank you for joining me as always and everyone fairness. Keep that in mind fairness. Thanks, Candace. See you all in the future.

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