Consumer trends report explores online grocery, Roblox and working from home

NRF Nexus: Dan Frommer on what data says about how consumers think and act
Fiona Soltes
NRF Contributor

Unprecedented? Old hat. Things are about to get “weird.”

That’s the word from Dan Frommer, founder and editor-in-chief of The New Consumer, who kicked off the inaugural NRF Nexus event with a brisk, fact-filled presentation on how and why people are spending their time and money.

Highlighting data from the most recent semi-annual Consumer Trends report, Frommer touched on topics as diverse as sustainability being “part of” consumer behavior when making decisions but not “the” deciding factor; the return of gym memberships; how two-thirds of Millennials surveyed believe online grocers have a responsibility to recommend healthy foods; and at-home COVID-19 tests (“the gadget of the decade”) opening up possibilities for at-home medical tests.

NRF Nexus 2022 recap

Take a look at more content from this year’s event in Southern California.

On the matter of changing attitudes toward work, 75 percent of the survey audience “believe they should have the legally protected right to work remotely if technology and the nature of their work permits it.” That view is broadly consistent across income groups, and even higher among women and Millennials.

“This is the third time we’ve asked this question, and every time I’ve changed the language to make it even stronger,” he said. “This is the strongest yet.” He’ll be interested, he said, to see how that changes as things like layoffs continue to be announced, and the balance of power shifts.

Also of note: Most U.S. consumers believe a recession is likely within the next year. News coverage mentioning a recession has spiked in recent months. And yet, Americans are still spending money. It is, however, the first prolonged down market for many Gen Z and Millennials consumers. Consumer sentiment is at its lowest point overall since the University of Michigan started tracking it.

The Consumer Trends 2022 Mid-Year Update was created in collaboration with venture capital firm Coefficient Capital, with consumer data from Earnest Research, and powered by Toluna. There have now been four Consumer Trends Surveys of more than 3,000 U.S. consumers, most recently in June — the first time the survey has included those ages 15-18.

The data, Frommer said, is “super fresh.”

Overall, he said, “The COVID-19 pandemic is not over. But what we call ‘economic COVID’ is mostly finished. The Omicron wave, of course, broke case records — and also my charts — but the good news is that the U.S. consumer is basically functioning as normal.” Even restaurant dining and air travel have effectively recovered.

“But uncertainty is still reality for consumers here in the U.S.” he said. “About half still think the pandemic will disrupt their lives for more than six months, as of June.” That question has been asked every month since the beginning of 2020, with “a roller coaster ride” of responses.

Also big picture: Record inflation is here, and the U.S. consumer is feeling it. The survey showed rising prices are by far the greatest concern at present; that’s followed by government/poor leadership and violent crime, with COVID coming in fourth. Most Americans think prices have “increased a lot” this year, and they’re increasingly pessimistic about their financial situation.

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As for Gen Z and Millennials, those ages 10 to 40, they now represent about 40 percent of the U.S. population, and are entering their prime spending decades. And almost half say they feel more like themselves online than offline. More than one-third consider themselves digital creators, most say they’re gamers, and more than 50 million people — most over the age of 13 — use Roblox every day.

Martine Reardon, NRF chief marketing officer and executive vice president of content and membership, greeted the crowd for the session. NRF Nexus, she said, builds on the longstanding IT leadership NRFtech event, adding digital and marketing leadership executives.

“This event reflects the growing importance of tech, digital and marketing working together to meet and exceed the needs of complex customer journeys and help retailers grow and thrive in truly disruptive times,” she said.

Frommer said he thinks all day about that intersection of tech and retail, and he touched on a future that is both digital and physical. Each must play to their strengths, he said, and they must play together.

“The consumer of the future feels at home online,” he said. “And that is where they will continue to do an increasing portion of entertainment and socialization. Digital culture is culture, and ecommerce is increasingly commerce.”

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