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Exploring the resilient consumer and retail

Retail Gets Real Episode 296: NRF’s Katherine Cullen on how consumers are adapting to change and uncertainty in surprising ways.

Retail is the industry that’s closest to the consumer, so when something big happens in the world — whether it’s a pandemic, inflation, social unrest or the war in Ukraine — retail is one of the first places we see the impact, according to Katherine Cullen, senior director of industry and consumer insights for the National Retail Federation’s research team.

Katherine Cullen
Katherine Cullen, senior director of industry and consumer insights at NRF.

“One of the reasons I’ve always been drawn to consumer insights is, at the end of the day, we’re all consumers,” Cullen says on this special episode of the Retail Gets Real podcast, recorded live at the NRF Foundation Student Program in New York City. “We’re all shoppers, and we can relate to the data that we’re seeing. We see a little bit of ourselves in it.”

The way consumers and retailers react to challenges is something that makes Cullen most excited about the retail industry. “We’ve seen, during times of uncertainty and change, that’s when a lot of innovation happens — retailers and consumers and retail employees responding in really incredible ways,” she says.

NRF 2023

Did you miss us in NYC? Take a look at our NRF 2023: Retail's Big Show event recap.

One of the biggest consumer insights that has surprised Cullen is the renewed and continuing interest in sustainability. “Before the pandemic, going into 2020, sustainability was a big theme for NRF, it was a big focus for retailers, and it was on consumers’ minds,” Cullen says. “But when the pandemic hit, there was a lot of talk that maybe sustainability would move to the back burner. …  Actually, interest in sustainability seems to have intensified during the pandemic. That’s something that I thought that was a little surprising and something that I like to think about when we’re looking at what’s going to happen in retail over the next few years.”

Listen to the full episode to learn how the holiday shopping season is getting longer and how consumers are reacting to worries about inflation, and to hear live questions from students participating in the NRF Foundation Student Program at NRF 2023.

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Episode transcript, edited for clarity

Bill Thorne:        Hi, this is Bill Thorne and I am really excited to bring you this episode of Retail Gets Real because it's the first time we've recorded in front of a live audience. So, sit back and enjoy. 

Crowd:            <Applause>

Bill Thorne:        Welcome to Retail Gets Real, where we hear from retail's most fascinating leaders about the industry that impacts everyone everywhere, every day. I'm Bill Thorne from the National Retail Federation, and today we are recording live from the NRF Foundation Student Program in New York City with an audience of over 1,000 of the brightest college students from across the country. Our guest today is Katherine Cullen, senior director of industry and consumer insights for the National Retail Federation. And on this episode, we’ll talk to Katherine about the latest consumer insights, what happened over the holiday season and what to expect from consumers in 2023. Katherine Cullen, welcome to the stage and welcome to this very special episode of Retail Gets Real.

Katherine Cullen:    Thanks so much, Bill. And I will say it’s really exciting to be here in a room with so many of retail’s future leaders. Looking out at this audience, it’s very inspiring to see all of you. Looking forward to our conversation and taping something live, that’s exciting.

Bill Thorne:        It is exciting, and we will get questions from the audience.

Katherine Cullen:    Great, make them all for Bill.

Bill Thorne:        No, no, just be kind, that’s all I’m asking. Be kind. All right, before we get into all the fascinating data, let’s start with a little background. You do quite a bit of research on behalf of the National Retail Federation. Could you share what types of research and insights NRF does and how they help the industry?

Katherine Cullen:    Absolutely. When I think about my job, I like to think back to what the overall mission of NRF is. I’m sure you’ve heard this throughout this week, but NRF really supports the people, the policies and ideas that make retail thrive. When I think about what our research does, we align to all of that. We talk to people, we talk to consumers, we talk to retail employees, to understand where their minds are at, how their values are shifting, how their behavior is shifting and what that means for the industry. We look at data and do studies to look at how various policies will impact the industry, whether that’s organized retail crime regulation or things like tax policy. We talk to retailers and we study what they’re doing, how their priorities are shifting and what innovations they’re investing in that will really set the stage for the future of retail. We do all that in a lot of different ways. I’m happy to talk more about that in the Q&A, but in a gist, that’s how I think about our research and what we do. I will say there’s never a boring day.

Bill Thorne:        As you said, we do a lot of consumer research in a year. What is your favorite research that we do?

Katherine Cullen:    Oh, it has to be the holiday season. It is, obviously, one of the biggest times of year for retailers and for consumers. One of the reasons I've always been drawn to consumer insights is at the end of the day, we're all consumers, we're all shoppers and we can relate to the data that we're seeing. We see a little bit of ourselves in it, or maybe there's something that reminds you of your mom or your relative or a neighbor and how they shop. It's a very tangible thing, which it can be easy to forget when you hear numbers and see all of that, but that all comes alive for me during the holiday season.

Bill Thorne:        For sure. It has been an extraordinary few years as it relates to consumer behavior. Can you give us some idea about consumer insights that has really evolved during that period of time?

Katherine Cullen:    Yeah, absolutely. Yes, there has been a lot happening in the last few years as I think we all can attest to, we've all experienced. One of the things that's important to keep in mind when we talk about how the consumer has evolved is we talk about retail being the industry that's closest to the consumer. As I mentioned a minute ago, we're all shoppers. Oftentimes when something big happens in the world, whether that's the pandemic, whether that's inflation or in Ukraine or social issues, retail and shopping is one of the first places where we see how that's impacting consumers, how their values are changing, how their spending is changing. We really saw that from the very beginning of the pandemic when everything shut down, as we all remember. There was some sense that maybe people would stop shopping and spending and really put a halt on their lives. That didn't happen. Retail sales actually grew significantly during the pandemic. I told myself, I wasn't going to say too many numbers, but here's some important numbers. 

Bill Thorne:         How can you get around that? 

Katherine Cullen:    Before the pandemic, retail sales were growing at about 3.7% on average every year. In 2020 that spiked to about 7%. Then in 2021 to 14%, and this year, even with inflation, we're still seeing real growth in spending. That's because our lives all changed. We stopped dining out, we stopped traveling, we stopped spending on experiences and instead started spending on our homes, lots of stretchy pants, other things like that to really help us cope during the pandemic. What we're seeing is that shift to spending on goods versus services is sticking around for a little longer than everyone thought.

Bill Thorne:        Consumer behavior did change. You think about buy online, pick up in store, curbside service and things of that sort. Is there any indication that that is going to go back to what it once was?

Katherine Cullen:    Absolutely not. One of the things that became really evident early in the pandemic is that people started trying a lot of new innovations and technologies. I mean, I have, my mom tried online grocery ordering for the first time during the pandemic. They did a lot of things that initially were out of concerns for safety, but then realized they're very convenient. Buy online, pick up in store, curbside, contactless payment, they're all things that made consumers’ lives a little easier and they discovered they liked them. I will say the thing that is going back is, we are seeing really strong interest in the store and in-person shopping. That never really went away during the pandemic, but we saw during the holiday season it came back in full force. That's one area that I do think we're going back to how things used to be.

Bill Thorne:        We have recorded probably some of the best sales numbers over a consistent basis in the last year. What's driving that? It's just constant.

Katherine Cullen:            Mm-hmm <affirmative>. There's a lot of different factors. One of the big ones is that there's a lot of stimulus money that went into the economy. People, a lot of households, while they're facing challenges and in many parts of their lives, and I don't want to downplay that, but the stimulus money did help put a little extra cash in consumers’ pockets. What we're seeing now, even with rising prices and inflation, is people still have access to some of that savings and that's driving some of their spending. But I think there's also something else going on and some of that is the lifestyle shifts that we've seen. Even as people start traveling, dining out, as we are in this wonderful room having an in-person gathering, which is very exciting to do, people are still — their lives have changed. We're seeing more remote work, we're seeing more hybrid work. We're seeing people enjoying cooking at home, executing hobbies that they picked up during the pandemic and the comfort of their home. Some of those habits seem to be a little stickier, and I think that is also fueling some of the spending on retail.

Bill Thorne:                      All right. So, inflation, we can't turn on the news without hearing about inflation, whether it's up or down and what's driving it. How is the consumer shifting their spending as a result of inflation?

Katherine Cullen:            That's a great question. Again, I think inflation is something we're all experiencing in real time and in real life. We're probably seeing it when we're buying some groceries, or if you drive a car, filling up at the gas station, it is a very real thing. We actually saw inflation overtake COVID as the issue that consumers are most concerned about in March of this year. But as we've noted, retail spending has continued. So, what's actually happening? How are people dealing with inflation? We're seeing a lot of shifts in behavior. People might be spending around what they spent previously, their household budget might stay about the same, but they're doing things like shopping for discounts more, maybe buying a different brand or a store brand or off brand than they would normally. They are looking for value, which was actually very, I think, important during this past holiday season. I think it drove some of the momentum there. They want to make every dollar count — of course, as someone who covers consumer insights, I do have to say there are different segments within consumers. High-income consumers are approaching this a little differently than lower-income consumers. But overall, we're seeing these below-the-surface shifts in how people think about their budget and in how people think about making things work for them.

Bill Thorne:                      Discretionary versus non-discretionary, is that something that you're seeing, people really focusing on one versus the other?

Katherine Cullen:            Not so far in — just as a reminder, discretionary purchases, those are things that, you know, splurge purchases, an extra shirt, a new outfit, wellness items versus essentials like groceries, gas, those kinds of things. There was a lot of assumption that with inflation, people would start to pull back on some of those discretionary purchases to account for higher costs in other areas of their lives. So far, we haven't seen that, at least, overall. We are seeing some lower-income households do that, but so far consumers have been willing to absorb some of those higher costs. Now I do think as we head into 2023, if we continue to see high inflation, which there are signs it's slowing, that could certainly shift and it's something we're keeping an eye on, but at least so far — and we'll have a new report coming out next week that actually looks at this. But so far, we're seeing people spend about the same amount on discretionary purchases versus essentials as they did before.

Bill Thorne:                      Where do people go to access the research?

Katherine Cullen:    Absolutely. A lot of this is available publicly on our website on nrf.com under the research section. We actually have pages dedicated to every major holiday and spending event as well as regular economic data, regular blog posts covering all these trends. So, if you're curious about this and want to learn more about any of these topics, please definitely check that out. A lot of it is available for the public so you can look at it and digest it for your own purposes.

Bill Thorne:        It's really interesting because a lot of the research that we do, we don't do it just because we like to do it, we do it because it adds value to the industry, to our members. A lot of our members do their own research and what they will end up doing is using ours as kind of a benchmark to compare what they're seeing versus what we're seeing. If it's simpatico, they feel good about it. If it's not, they try to dig down a little deeper to find out where the problem is, why they're not seeing the same kind of information. And speaking of digging down the holiday season, pretty good for the retailers, correct?

Katherine Cullen:    As far as we know. The final numbers will — or the first numbers for December — will come out next week. But yes, it is looking overall like it was a good holiday season. As I mentioned, this is my favorite time of year to cover from a research perspective because there's so much going on. It's not just so much shopping, but you see which innovations consumers embrace, how their behavior changes, things like that. Going into this holiday season there were kind of the normal questions we have, but there was also the added question of whether or not this would be a return to 2019 and we just see kind of a pre-pandemic type of holiday shopping season, or whether COVID permanently changed how people approached the holidays. The answer was actually a little bit of both.

We saw a return to old in terms of major shopping around events like Thanksgiving weekend, we saw 196.7 million consumers shop either online or in stores over that five-day time period. A lot of it was driven by stores. Actually, a 17% increase in the number of store shoppers over that weekend, which I think again speaks to the fact that people missed the store during the pandemic and were excited to return to it. But there was also a little bit of a shift that seems to have stuck around since the pandemic. I don't know if anyone in this room noticed, but a lot of holiday deals started before Halloween this year and continued throughout the season. There's been a lot of talk about what is the holiday season anymore? Is it still November and December? Does it even have a beginning and an end?

Is it just a year-round shopping event? What we saw is that people have definitely started shopping earlier than they used to. People seem to like to give themselves more time, they want to stretch out their budget. We are seeing shopping pulled up particularly into early November, but a little bit into October. Where this matters, for those of you who are marketing or are merchandising majors in the audience, and retailers, what matters for them is how they think about staggering their products, staggering their marketing efforts. And when things start earlier, how do you keep consumers engaged all season long so that they don't get burned out on sales, they don't get burned out on the holiday season and they continue to have a positive and meaningful interaction with you. I think that's something we're going to continue to see more innovation around because I don't think this longer holiday shopping season is going anywhere.

Bill Thorne:        It's really interesting this year — ever since, I've been with NRF for almost 11 years now, every year we get media calls about why the retailers are coming out with holiday sales earlier and earlier. It was interesting that this year we didn't get one call about that. I think it's because, and what we explained to them, was that this is not a new phenomenon. This has been going on for quite some time. Retailers don't do something because they just want to do it. They do it because the consumer wants them to do it and if it didn't work, they wouldn't continue to do it. I think that the early shopping obviously is something that consumers enjoy, and more and more retailers are responding to that. The other issue, I think ,when it comes to holiday is how it's now, Black Friday is kind of not what it used to be. What is the big spending day now?

Katherine Cullen:    Well, it's not a single day anymore, it is all of Thanksgiving weekend turned into a five-day shopping event. It's not Cyber Monday versus Black Friday. It is a long five days of shopping. People often forget about one of the other big days of the year is Super Saturday, the last Saturday before the Christmas holiday when a lot of last-minute shoppers head out. It's folks’ last opportunity to get a lot of items and they're wrapping things up before they start their own holiday celebrations. That's another really significant moment. We saw, again, record shopping around that. And just out of curiosity, how many of you in the room would consider yourself early holiday shoppers? OK, so not so many from what I can see, which again speaks to something I just wanted to remind us all of, which is as we talk about these data and insights, there are different segments who behave different ways. One thing we have seen is younger consumers don’t shop super early, they are more procrastinators. So, if you’re listening to this and you’re saying, ‘I don't really relate to what she's saying and do they even know what they're talking about?’ I do want to acknowledge everyone behaves a little differently. People who fall into your age demographic tend to put things off a little later. Or if you're Bill Thorne, you wait until Christmas Eve—

Bill Thorne:         I do.

Katherine Cullen:     As we know. So, just as a reminder—

Bill Thorne:        Just, even though, I do some early too. As a matter of fact, you’re saying that — it’s just probably me and the educators are the ones that put up our hands for the early shopping — I just want to get it out of the way. It's, but the Christmas Eve is kind of tradition now. I have to shop on Christmas Eve and it's — 

Katherine Cullen:    So stressed out.

Bill Thorne:        It's just what I do. Anywho, so, the consumer, how has the consumer surprised us lately?

Katherine Cullen:    Well, I think one of the things we've really taken away from the last few years is that, particularly the onset of the pandemic, people didn't really behave the way we expected them to. And that started a little bit with that strong consumer demand I talked about where people, instead of hunkering down and cutting themselves off from everything when their lives shut down, they were spending at really strong rates. That has been a surprise, also how people have responded to inflation has been a little surprising, that they've kept spending. But one of my favorite, I would say unexpected consumer insights, is probably around sustainability. Before the pandemic, going into 2020, sustainability, it was a big theme for NRF. It was a big focus for retailers, it was on consumers' minds. But when the pandemic hit, there was a lot of talk that maybe sustainability would move to the back burner.

People were using a lot more disposable products than they were maybe before the pandemic. They were worried about other aspects of their lives. There was a thought that maybe sustainability would become less important. And the opposite happened, actually — sustainability and interest in sustainability seems to have intensified during the pandemic. There are a couple reasons for that. One, people were very focused on their own health and wellbeing and how they interact with their environment, but also everyone was stuck at home and there were a lot of natural events going on. There were floods and fires and people were seeing a lot more erratic climate issues. So, people started thinking about and valuing their own impact on the environment even more than they did before the pandemic. We released a study last year with IBM that actually looked at that and how globally interest in supporting sustainability increased compared to where we were before the pandemic. I thought that was really kind of counterintuitive, a little surprising and something that I like to think about when we're looking at what's going to happen in retail over the next few years.

Bill Thorne:        Before we open it up to the students, let me ask you two quick questions. One, what excites you most about the future of retail?

Katherine Cullen:    This might be a little strange to say, but I'm a little excited about all of the uncertainty. 

Bill Thorne:        That is strange. That is very strange.

Katherine Cullen:    We know, I'm probably the only one — and not to downplay how serious some of the economic factors are going on right now— but we've seen during times of uncertainty and change, that's when a lot of innovation happens. I mean even during the pandemic we saw retailers, consumers and retail employees responding in really incredible ways. I think as we face the challenge of inflation, as we face some of the challenges around climate and sustainability, I think that's where we're going to start to see a lot of innovation. That really excites me. I don't have a crystal ball. I don't know what that innovation is going to be exactly, but I think it's going to be a really interesting year. If I could tack on a second thing I'm excited about, I'm really excited about the renewed focus on the store. I think the pandemic really demonstrated that, something NRF has been talking about for a long time, which is that there is no death of the store. People enjoy the store experience and I think we're going to see a lot of innovation there in terms of store experiences, in terms of entertainment in the store and technology in the store. I find that, as a consumer, very exciting.

Bill Thorne:        We went for so long pushing back on this narrative on the death of brick-and-mortar at the hands of online and it's just not the case. 

Katherine Cullen:    Yeah. 

Bill Thorne:        But I will say during the pandemic, and if you've listened to episodes during the pandemic, we talked to a lot of the retailers about how they were innovating. The neat thing was that they were doing things that normally would take years or maybe months, but certainly in many cases years to introduce to the consumer. They didn't have that luxury during the time of the pandemic. So, they would come up with these, somebody would sit in a room and they'd say, ‘Well I think that if we do this ambassador program, what we can do is—,’ and they roll it out and they're like, ‘get it done.’ And then three weeks later it's in the stores.

I always ask these innovators, these retailers, is this the future? I'm really glad to say that all of them said, ‘We are not going back. We have a good idea. We think it's going to resonate well with the consumer. It's going to make it easier for them and it's going to advantage us, therefore we're going to do it.’ I think that's kind of to your point of uncertainty, there was no more uncertain time than what started on March 12th of 2020. I know all of you can speak to that as well. OK, last question before you open it up, students, you, advice, what is your best advice?

Katherine Cullen:    I had a heads-up that this question was coming, so I had a little time to think about it. But you know, this is a piece of advice that I wish I had gotten early in my career. I had a lot of interest in retail, but I was someone who was also very interested in data, and I didn't see how those two fit together. I really wish someone had told me that retail is a really vast industry. There's a lot of different types of jobs. If you're interested in something, likelihood is you can do it within retail. I wish someone had told me that, because I think I would've made the transition earlier over into the industry. I think it's one thing people really overlook. They have a conception about retail or what a career in retail looks like and the reality is retail's a huge industry. There's HR professionals, there's technology, there's data people, there are merchandisers, there are marketers and there's a wealth of opportunity within the industry. I find that very exciting and it's something, like I said, I wish someone had told me, stopped me at like 22 and said, ‘You can go pursue your passion in this area because there's a job and there's opportunity for someone with your background.’

Bill Thorne:        Amen. All right. So, anybody have a question that they'd like to ask Katherine? Not me. I see somebody, rising.

Katherine Cullen:    If we have mics at the—

Bill Thorne:        We do have mics here at the front. Oh, that's a lot of questions. 

Crowd:            <Laugh>

Katherine Cullen:    Please make some of them for Bill.

Bill Thorne:        No, all for Katherine, please. All right, start here.

Mikeyla Parker:        Hi, good morning. 

Bill Thorne:        Good morning. 

Mikeyla Parker:        I'm Mikeyla Parker, senior fashion merchandising at Kent State University. As you look at the shifts in behavior changes of the data, does the data show a shift more towards off-price or full price and does it depend on the generation?

Katherine Cullen:    It's a really great question. We are seeing a little bit more of a shift to discount and off-price, but rather than being driven by generation, it's a little more driven by income, which can tie into generation. Younger consumers often fall into, they haven't made their full income potential at this point, but it does seem to be a little more focused on income and it's particularly happening around middle-income consumers who are sort of trading down. I hesitate to say that because that sounds like discount is you're giving something up, but they're making some of those shifts in how they shop. They're considering different brands, store brands, off brands, versus lower-income consumers, they’re already shopping there and so they’re not making as many of those changes. We’re seeing it, again, a little bit more in the middle. 

Bill Thorne:        Great question. 

Katherine Cullen:    Thank you for your question.

Bill Thorne:        Over here.

Blossom:        Hi, I'm Blossom, I’m a fashion major at Lipscomb University. My question is, you touched a bit on the differences in mindset from high-end consumers and low-end consumers. I'm wondering, what's the area where they differ the most, especially with our current inflation going on?

Katherine Cullen:    Yeah, absolutely. It's a great question. I think we're going to continue seeing that play out in 2023. I think the biggest thing that stood out to me is everyone's worried about inflation regardless of their income. But higher-income consumers aren't changing their behavior as much. They have more access to savings, more access to credit and debt. So, they're very worried about it, but they're not changing how they spend because they're not feeling the need to yet, versus lower- and middle-income consumers, they're starting to see their savings get cut into, they're feeling kind of the pinch of inflation a little more directly, so they're starting to shift their behaviors. But I think we're seeing with higher-income consumers, and this is a positive for anyone interested in the luxury segment, I think they still feel comfortable spending on luxury, kind of splurging, but so far they're not changing their behavior dramatically.

Bill Thorne:        Great question. Thank you.

Carter Wilson:        Hi, my name is Carter Wilson. I'm a third-year fashion merchandising student at the University of Georgia.

Bill Thorne:        Go Dogs.

Carter Wilson:        Go Dogs. You mentioned the surprising growth we saw in consumer spending over the course of the pandemic. I would anticipate the highest amounts of growth in those areas to be within athleisure and home goods, but were there any other areas that you saw growth that might have been surprising to you?

Bill Thorne:        Brilliant question, go ahead.

Katherine Cullen:    Not at all biased based on where you went to school <laugh>. No, it is a good question. So obviously the pandemic lasted for a long time, I think longer than any of us initially expected. We saw different segments spike at different times. Athleisure and comfort wear was strong at certain points, home as you I think noted, electronics saw some strong performance throughout the pandemic. People were buying a lot more laptops, home electronics devices, TVs, things like that. Grocery also very strong. People, as they were dining out less and cooking at home more, grocery performed extremely well. But I would say different sectors — so apparel struggled a lot initially, they were really hit by the store closures because a lot of how we buy clothes is, we like to see things in person and touch and feel them — but then recovered later on. Versus grocery was strong throughout, home was kind of strong throughout. So yeah, I hope that answers your question. It was kind of a mixed bag across the board, but particularly as consumers adjusted we saw a lot of strength returned to some of these different sectors.

Carter Wilson:            Thank you.

Emily Mosquera:        Hi, I'm Emily Mosquera. I go to Rutgers University, New Jersey, and I'm studying marketing and supply chain management. So, you're saying how, the past years, the percentage of consumer spending has been increasing over time. What are your future expectations in this upcoming holiday season preparation for?

Katherine Cullen:        It's a great question. I wish I had the answer to that. I am going to say our chief economist comes out with a very complicated forecast every year. We'll be releasing our expectations for the year in March. It's a little hard to tell right now because there's a long time period between now and the holidays, but our chief economist is still expecting to see some growth. But we do expect spending to maybe start to slow. We came off of so many high years. It is hard to comp to that every year, as any of you who are thinking about merchandising planning will probably be thinking about, you think about your comps and you can't comp at the same rate when you have these kind of very strong growth years. But there's some signs consumer demand is starting to slow a little bit. But as I mentioned, we are seeing these lifestyle shifts really stick around and I think that will continue to drive some strength in retail.

Bill Thorne:            And the numbers are going to go down. I mean, just get ready for it, but when you read it, make sure that you read it right. We have had such strong growth over such a long time that invariably it's going to come down when you do comparable sales from two years ago or last year. When you're running at 14% and you go down to 6%, 6% is amazing growth. But the clickbait will say, consumers aren't spending, retail is in trouble. It's not true. Read the whole story. The fact of the matter is that retail is fine, it's healthy, it continues to grow. Maybe at not the rates that it did during this last extraordinary time, but if you're going to make comparisons compared to five years ago or 10 years ago, don't compare to just the last two years because it just skews the numbers. Retail is healthy. 

Emily Mascara: Thank you so much. 

Bill Thorne: Oh, did I miss? I'm sorry, I did go to this side. Thank you.

Sabrina Leibowitz:        Hi, thank you to the both of you for such an interesting talk this morning. My name is Sabrina Leibowitz and I'm a design and merchandising major from Drexel University. My question is, with holiday promotions being so prolonged into Q4, really creating so much excitement from the consumer to shop, do you foresee any strategies retailers plan to implement following Q4 into Q1 to continue to inspire that excitement to shop?

Katherine Cullen:        That's a really interesting question. I think retailers do understand their— Q1, there's generally a slowing down of sales. People have just spent a lot of money, they have a lot of gifts they're enjoying. We do expect things to kind of slow down a little bit. But some lessons and some strategies from the holidays that I think will continue to see retailers implement is we're going to continue seeing major events like Thanksgiving weekend and big sales around those key events. But I think retailers are recognizing that consumers want a little more time to shop. So back to school, is after holiday, the biggest time of year for retail for many retailers. We even saw this, this past back-to-school shopping season where sales and deals and shopping started a little earlier, that people want to stretch that out.

And then I think the other takeaway is that with inflation being so top of mind for consumers and for so many people, people are looking for value. That doesn't necessarily mean they're looking for the deepest discount, but they want to feel that they got something back. They want to feel that they got some value. That's true across income segment. I think that is going to put a little more interest in sale events but also other benefits or services that might come along with that. Then the last one I'm just going to mention is, I think we're probably also going to see some consumers willing to make more trade-offs. I think we're seeing some of this already, where people might be willing to accept a longer time for shipping if they pay a little less or get a discount. Some of those strategies I think are going to continue. I'm sorry, I just answered with a lot of information. It was a great question. So, thank you. 

Sabrina Leibowitz:         Great, thank you.

Maggie Cooley:               Hi, my name is Maggie Cooley and I'm a senior marketing major from Texas A&M University. I was just wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about your career journey and have you always been in consumer insights or what led you to the NRF?

Katherine Cullen:            Oh, thank you for that question.

Bill Thorne:                      Brought her to the NRF.

Katherine Cullen:            Yes, <laugh>. So, I actually didn’t start in retail, I was always interested in it as I mentioned, but I was also, if you can’t tell, a pretty big nerd. I loved data, I loved insights, I loved math and I didn't see how I could have a career in retail. I ended up going into data analytics, actually worked for the federal government doing like identifying fraud in different programs, but still followed the industry, was an avid shopper. The more I was reading about the industry and kind of following the news about it, I started to see people talking about, what I think a term we've thankfully all moved away from, but big data and insights and how that was being used. I realized that I could probably find a place for myself. I ended up going to grad school to do that and had a really great experience really diving into the industry. I got to work at Macy's in insights. They have a wealth of data and do really interesting things, as do a lot of retailers, but it was a great education in how retailers understand their customers and try to use data to inform their business. Then I happened across the NRF, I encountered them from when I was a student and saw a really interesting job on our insights team and decided to reach out and thankfully I didn't meet Bill, so I was hired. But thank you.

Bill Thorne:                      Well, you closed with that one. Last question.

Grant Morrow:                I'm Grant Morrow, I'm a consumer apparel and retail studies major at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. My question was, with all the very big world events, the pandemic, war on Ukraine and inflation, what are some of the key differences you're seeing between the domestic and international markets and buying habits?

Katherine Cullen:            That's a tough one to answer. I mean, for the most part we look primarily at the U.S. customer, but we do know, inflation is impacting different countries in different ways. Europe, for example, was seeing much higher rates of inflation sooner than we were. They also have some different shopping habits. Asia and China in particular, is very complicated with their zero-COVID policy. That is impacting some of their shopping. They're also a little more mobile-forward than we are. I don't have a single answer for that because I think there are so many different economies, it's hard to call out some of the distinct differences. Some of the commonalities as I mentioned, are kind of a global interest in sustainability has risen. There are differences in different types of consumers. There's kind of a status environmental consumer. There is also a, someone who's very value-oriented. We're actually seeing some of those commonalities across consumer segments on some of these issues.

Grant Morrow:        Awesome. Thank you so much.

Bill Thorne:        Yeah, thank you for the question. In closing, Katherine, it has been a distinct pleasure talking with you in our very first live recording of Retail Gets Real. Thank you for being with us.

Katherine Cullen:    Thank you so much, Bill. Thank you everyone for such good questions.

Bill Thorne:        And thank you all for listening to another episode of Retail Gets Real. You can find more information about this episode at retailgetsreal.com. I'm Bill Thorne, this is Retail Gets Real. Until next time, thank y'all so much.

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