University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Ep. 4 | Wendy Liebmann on Following the Shopper to the Future

Wendy Liebmann
January 25, 2021

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How have customer’s browsing behaviors changed? How can you include emotional touchpoints and create an efficient in-store experience? What does the future of sustainability in packaging look like

Wendy Liebmann, founder and CEO of WSL Strategic Retail, sits down with host Andy Murray to discuss her answers and insights to these questions and more in Episode 4 of the “It’s a Customer’s World” podcast.

WSL is a global consultancy that helps clients across several industries anticipate and activate change through innovative shopper-led retail strategies. Wendy is known as an innovator of shopper insights, and her goal is to get executives out of their ivory towers to meet shoppers on the shopping floor. She publishes research in the “How America Shops” survey, has extensive global experience in marketing and retail research, and holds a degree in business and psychology from the University of South Wales. She is known for her unique combination of Australian earthiness, global retail vision, provocative viewpoints, and inspirational storytelling.

As the conversation begins, Wendy talks about the current retail space, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has seen a number of shifts in the retail space, though many of these shifts had started far before the onset of COVID-19. Wendy considers what is to come next, explores questions raised by the move to e-commerce, and considers both a decrease in browsing behavior and the need to change the in-store experience. Further, Wendy and Andy discuss technology changes COVID-19 has advanced, as well as issues surrounding sustainability and packaging. Looking toward the future, Wendy pushes for a top-down approach, understanding shoppers’ lives, and capitalizing on emotional touchpoints. Finally, Wendy offers advice to students and people entering the field.


Episode Transcript:

Andy Murray: (00:05)

Hi, I'm Andy Murray. Welcome to It's a Customer's World podcast. Now more than ever, retailers and brands are accelerating their quest to be more customer centric. But to be truly customer centric, it requires both a shift in mindset and ways of working, not just in marketing but in all parts of the organization. In this podcast series, I'll be talking with practitioners, thought leaders and scholars to hear their thoughts on what it takes to be a leader in today's customer centric world. Today I have with me, Wendy Liebmann. Wendy founded WSL a global consultancy that helps clients anticipate and activate change through innovative shopper led retail strategies. She is recognized as an innovator of shopper insights. Her goal is to get executives out of the ivory towers to meet shoppers on the selling floor, be it physical or digital.

Andy Murray: (01:07)

WSL consults to such industries as retail, health, beauty, fashion, food beverages, home, personal care entertainment, publishing, financial services, I could go on. But they also publish research called How America Shops, which I've had a chance to receive a number of times over the years. It's been highly regarded, it is a highly regarded survey that's been going on since 1990. And it tracks how shoppers look at retail then looks at predicting where both might be headed. Wendy has extensive global experience in marketing, retail, research, beginning in her native Australia where she learned to be a passionate shopper. She holds a degree in business and psychology from the University of New South Wales in Sydney. And Wendy is also noted for her unique combination of Australian earthiness, global retail vision, provocative viewpoint and inspirational storytelling. Welcome Wendy and thank you for joining me.

Wendy Liebmann: (02:02)

Thank you Andy. I'm delighted to be here to talk all things shopper and customer experience.

Andy Murray: (02:09)

Well, we have a lot to talk about in terms of the customer's world and what's happening in it, but I guess before we start, perhaps I can talk a bit about what's going on in your world. Just tell me a bit of what's going on and some of the learnings you might have around the customer insight work you've been doing over the last X number of years.

Wendy Liebmann: (02:29)

I think this certainly, this last six months or eight months has been a very interesting learning not just from insights around the customer shopper and the retail experience, but also how we all have to adapt to our business and the way we do business. One of the things that's been really important for us is to be able to help our clients stay very engaged, thinking about the near term future as well as the longer term future. So some of the things that we have been seeing, I think the biggest insight for me is that some of the shifts we've been seeing that are COVID driven and how shoppers are responding have really come from foundational shifts that were in place before the pandemic arrived. So the move to digital shopping, to online shopping, click and collect, all those things would make shopping easier, faster for shoppers, for people, were in place, clearly COVID has ramped that up.

Wendy Liebmann: (03:31)

The move to preventative health and wellness, huge, huge opportunity and trend already in place that we were seeing in all our research. So lots of these things that we're seeing heightened today are really things that were in the works and shoppers are just absolutely embracing those tools to get on with their lives. So I think that's one of the things that I would say has been really interesting to watch. And I think secondly, the incredible resilience of the American shopper and consumer as shopper, the American person to deal with this extraordinary pandemic and find ways to do what they need to do when it comes to goods and services, taking care of their families, figuring out how to get to work, protect themselves from the virus. I mean, there's some extraordinary learnings we see in our data, our... what I call our COVID series of research that we've been doing that makes me just marvel at how Americans just get on with it.

Andy Murray: (04:36)

Well, that's really encouraging to hear and I do see as well probably not as much data of course as you see that there's acceleration of business strategies and consumer behavior that has probably accelerated and I know in some of the online retailers with grocery, that those sales have moved up what they were probably targeting eight years from now. And so it's a tremendous shift in that. And I guess I would be interested in what your thoughts are around what you might see in your next survey results that would indicate what just happened. The feeling of what's changed and what kind of surprises might be in there that could be a bit unexpected. I know you can't forecast the future, but I bet you're really looking for-

Wendy Liebmann: (05:21)

I think I can-

Andy Murray: (05:21)

Well, you probably can. I bet you're looking forward to doing that next survey because part of me thinks that quite a few things will change and mostly I think you're right it would be accelerated, but there might be and hopefully you'll find this in the research some things that will be sticky and I'd love to know what kinds of things would be sticky that probably wasn't there as much before.

Wendy Liebmann: (05:41)

I think the obvious and you've alluded to that, the stickiness of buying online, basic essentials. So we had seen the growth of online shopping obviously. You had in categories like technology and fashion, lots of categories where people have been buying online for some considerable time. Obviously the pandemic translated into people taking that knowledge and using it for things like buying everyday groceries and across the country not just in pockets, not just higher income across the country, because it was all then about safety and access. And what people have learned from that and we've already because we've been doing all this work, but you're right we've got hopefully not a last COVID study, but another COVID study coming towards the end of the year.

Wendy Liebmann: (06:27)

What people have learned is it's really it can be really easy to get those things off the list so I can do what I want with my time. And we began to see that before in fact, some work we were doing with friends, mutual friends of the family here, where we would see like six out of 10 people said, I want to do my shopping faster so I have time for other things. Now, this was pre pandemic. So this notion now of buying everyday essentials, things like who could care, paper towels, toilet paper, let's have that conversation later. Basic groceries, every day online has just become something people said oh, that worked. Maybe it didn't work in the very beginning because the challenges of getting stuff delivered quickly and in stock positions, but now it works.

Wendy Liebmann: (07:18)

And whether it's ordering online and having it delivered home, or whether it's ordering online and driving up to the store and having it put in the trunk, drive throughs, all of that now has made people very comfortable and will continue to make people comfortable. It's not just about safety now, it's about time and life and what do I want to do with my life?

Andy Murray: (07:41)

That's an interesting observation and it leads to some interesting conclusions. So if online shopping allows you to take the time back and I've always felt that shoppers had a time budget, a money budget and a frustration budget, and there's only so much of those they're going to give to any particular category. So following the logic of what you've just shared, if you start going online to get those key categories that are essentials, online is not a great place to browse and what physical retail had was an ability even if you were looking in a traditionally boring category of essentials, you still might have some browsing behavior on the different choices on the couch, but probably not that much.

Andy Murray: (08:22)

And so this area of how do customers browse probably means that in those categories that have moved primarily online, once you're locked into a brand, you're probably going to stick with that brand because it's so easy to get it on an essential way and you're not going to really spend a lot of time browsing to see other brands. So big implications for suppliers in those categories who are wanting to get trial on new, when their categories predominantly moved online to a different experience. What are your thoughts on that?

Wendy Liebmann: (08:51)

Absolutely. And I think it puts the owners back both on the brands and the retail partners to think about how do I communicate new in a world that is now about efficiency, safety, time, price. Somebody said to me the other day, which I thought was a wonderful example, they were marveling at how efficient Target's order online pick up at store had become, but Target is a very browsing kind of store, right? It's one of those places that you go in and plan to do four things and spend $200. So she was saying, which was that sort of anecdotal listening to the shopper because it's amazing what you hear in those sort of intimate moments. But what I miss is being able to get my Starbucks coffee. So she raised the question okay, so if I'm ordering online and picking up from store and one of the kids is loading the stuff in my trunk, couldn't they bring me a coffee too?

Andy Murray: (09:46)

Great idea. What an insight-

Wendy Liebmann: (09:48)

You think about... exactly. So listen to [inaudible 00:09:50] always say, follow the shopper and they will lead you to the future. So that thought, but it's also the thought about how do I in a non browsing process, how do I engage without disrupting the fact that they want to do this efficiently? Now, is it the reminder? Don't forget beauty categories, which may not be necessarily an essential, for some of us clearly it is. But if it's like did you buy a new winter skincare product, don't forget winter is coming, all of those things. How do I create a different conversation in a world where I may not to your point be wandering down the aisles of the store. So I think we have to think about that as marketers, as brand people, as retailers, how do we do that to remind people.

Wendy Liebmann: (10:40)

And then I would say the other part to that is people will still go into the store, but the nature of their trip, the nature of their journey at least in the next six to 12 months will be quite different, it will be about fast. And so how do you find those what we would call emotional touchpoints to embrace them in those moments, to engage them with either what's new, or just a personal connection between you and me as associate and consumer shopper.

Andy Murray: (11:18)

Absolutely. And to your point on time, the online switch has really highlighted just how important customers valued time over budget and other things and yet I would be worried of any retailer that sent up the white flag of time management to grocery, home shopping, or pick up and didn't think about the in-store experience as a time element as well. You can't just say well, if they're time pressed they'll just shop online. Well, actually a lot of categories are very time consuming to shop because it's difficult to work for many reasons. One, it's difficult to work out the value because they're over assorted and perhaps under choice. And so when you're looking at the store, I think for me it just highlights the importance of thinking about customers time to make decisions and every part of the physical space as well and the online shift is a good example of just how important that really is.

Wendy Liebmann: (12:15)

And I think there's something interesting about that too because we're already starting to see how people are getting back into physical stores. We saw the shrinkage on that in some of our first work in April, may, June. In new work we've just done, always just doing new work that hasn't been published yet. We're starting to see a move back into physical stores, but the trip is changing. So to your point in that I think that's a really important discussion. One of our clients, one of our CPG clients said recently boy, we've got a CEO who's saying if everything's moved online, why are we spending, why are we doing any of our trade spending, any of our marketing spending, any of our shoppers spending in store?

Wendy Liebmann: (12:59)

Why aren't we pushing it all? And she was like oh, give me some insights, give me some data that I can go to him with three things and say why. We saw in non-essential categories at about 70% of shoppers said they wanted to get back to the store as soon as they could. Now, that didn't mean the trip hasn't changed and how they embrace the store whether it was a big box, or a small box. But there was this desire in things that weren't easy to shop for that they wanted to get back to the store, the physical store. So that was one aspect that was really important. And I think to your point, it's not assuming... So good news people want to get back to the store emotionally and because it's practical in some instances, but we can't leave the store the way it was.

Andy Murray: (13:47)

That's right. That's a great insight. Say some more about that.

Wendy Liebmann: (13:51)

So I really think that the nature of the store, think about what it used to be and in many retailers still is, where's the milk? At the back, right?

Andy Murray: (13:58)

Yeah. Big time [crosstalk 00:14:00] reason for that, obviously keep them in the store longer.

Wendy Liebmann: (14:03)

Thank you. Now, people have been telling retailers for years, you know what? I get it. I know you want me to walk through the whole store, I know what you... why you're doing it, I'm smart enough to know that. It's unacceptable. It was unacceptable then, you'd hear busy mums saying, and you want me to do what? Diapers and milk. Now, that's unacceptable. So the ability to sort of think about the shoppers trip now, and the experience they're looking for when they come to the store, that means you need to rethink the way you're doing everything from a power aisle, an end cap, what are the things people want fast? And what are the things people might spend a little time doing, but actually they need a different kind of environment. What are the categories people are going to do their homework before they come to the store?

Wendy Liebmann: (14:52)

So I think we have to kind of pull apart store, not I think, I know we have to sort of pull apart the store and look at all those precepts, those... the mythology of what a physical store looked like and re-envision it within the context of what we now know. And it's not just about when we have a vaccine, people will go back to the store the way they used to. Get over it, it's done, it was done before and now it's really done. So that's what I think is really important now, we're saying that to all of our clients.

Andy Murray: (15:28)

That's fantastic. I mean, that really I think is smart thinking. And if you think about this area of time because that's really what's escalated in this whole space in addition to safety and other things, it would be interesting to look at a store and say by category how much time should that take to make a smart choice of what you came in to get, but also build in a few seconds for some browsing behavior because that is the advantage of that. We did a couple of studies back in the day when I was in the shopper marketing space around some of that kind of behavior using the methodologies that you guys use, which I think is so important to do. It gives you insights way beyond the data of following and talking to shoppers from the home all the way through.

Andy Murray: (16:08)

And we found on things like refill items where it's razors is a good example. Until you get that off the list as I need razors and you know what you're going to do, if the buyer by chance puts the refills in the... because they know they're going to get them anyway and they're really trying to sell newer systems, that's really frustrating if you can't find that. But it probably is counterintuitive for a buyer perhaps to put the refills right there. But what we found is that customer will double back if you've been really efficient and it's all subconscious. So if subconscious we're going to give that about 90 seconds and that category, and they found it in the first 10, there's a good chance they'll double back and give you that browsing behavior.

Andy Murray: (16:48)

But if you took all 90 seconds to find the refill, you're not looking at new systems, you're just trying to get... and that is also true with ice cream and such, but it's difficult to think about it, or it's really I'd say kind of new to think about the total time budget of the store and what categories and how do you want to appropriate that time. So the different categories if you think about it from a total box perspective.

Wendy Liebmann: (17:10)

And I also think in all of this, in this sort of re-envisioning if you will, the store, physical and digital because I think there are issues with the digital store as well to your earlier point. But as we think about re-envisioning it, we also have to recognize that the shift to e-commerce has really raises the questions that many of us have been asking for a long time. How many stores, how many physical stores, what size do those stores need to be? What categories do we need to think about? I mean, I think about from the Walmart discussions and what I've been talking to people about and reading is look at the neighborhood markets as where the growth has come through this, I mean obviously and click and collect and all of that.

Wendy Liebmann: (17:57)

But the neighborhood markets, those small formats that didn't have everything and in the beginning was like ooh, but I expect Walmart to have everything. Well, actually now I expect Walmart to have what I need, the right things at least in that space. So as you think about store size, as we think about how many stores we need, we've been talking about this for years, right? It used to be a real estate game. It used to be this notion of location, location, location, well guess what? It's not. And so then the question becomes how many do I need? What size do I need? And also what goes in that box. And I would say to physical or digital, there are so many categories that are now emerging sort of what I would call solution categories that have come out of the pandemic, protection, masks.

Wendy Liebmann: (18:51)

Somebody said to me the other day, where do masks go? Where do we merchandise masks? They're obviously on every end cap, every whatever, popping up on every screen, but where should they go? And the conversation is how do shoppers think about them? It's about protecting, it's about protecting me and my family, what else goes in that hand? Sanitizers, protection for my pets, protection for my home. I mean, there's an opportunity now as we re-envision the store through a shopper lens to really think about these new categories, or new items that have emerged as part of categories. What do we think about there? Things like immunity, it's not just emergency, it's health and nutrition. Those sorts of things are now delivered in very different ways.

Wendy Liebmann: (19:42)

And I think they're really, I mean it's hard to say this, it's exciting in a pandemic, but there are really exciting things that we can do and must do now as both retailers and brands to serve the shopper's needs in this next six, 12, and then moving forward month.

Andy Murray: (20:02)

Well, it definitely will be exciting and it'll be really exciting for store planners who have to... what you're basically saying is they're going to need to rethink macro space. And macro space is not something you do every day because it's so capital intensive and to get a good read that's not influenced by COVID spikes on what category deserves what space in a macro environment where you know things have changed, but you're not quite sure what's going to stick and stay, you're right. This will be exciting times because I'm not sure the data is going to be that clean. It's not like you're going to have a consistent three years of something to build a trend on us and we know this trend is going to stay whether it's pet food growing or whatever, to reapportion space at a macro level, but you're absolutely right, this will be a time of thinking about store planning again in a macro way that we probably haven't seen a trigger to go do in a long, long time.

Wendy Liebmann: (20:56)

And I would also say and things like category management, these tools that we've developed over the last decade or so, how do we have to think about those? So this is where art and science has to come together. That we have so much data, there is so many analytics that we can look at today. I know I'm preaching to the converted when I talked to you about that intimate... I mean, we do all this quant work all the time, but there are always those times when we know you cannot dismiss the value of this conversation with a shopper and understanding what we call their shopping life.

Wendy Liebmann: (21:32)

How do they live their life? Economics, the politics, don't mention that but the economic impacts political, social, technological things that impact the way shoppers lived their life and how does that then affect how they spend the money on goods and services. So that's both data and analytics, but it's also the sort of touch and feel and observation that becomes really important as you step back and say well, what do we think about for the next six months?

Andy Murray: (22:03)

Agreed. And I think the problem with data, I mean I love data, big customer data lakes, and all the things that could give you from a macro perspective. But I think the last year is going to cause a lot of challenges with just the data cleanliness and what's really in there and what's really representative of future behavior. I mean the data... large data, big data gives you, I call it an abundance of insights, but a poverty of insight and-

Wendy Liebmann: (22:30)

I love that. I'm going to steal it.

Andy Murray: (22:33)

Feel free. But it's the... and it's the human touch to be able to synthesize those patterns into what's really an insight, then having loads of insights and so that requires the human touch observation. Observation gives you things that surveys even won't give you because people will say they bought these things and they... you'll find out that none of that behavior actually existed. And so the power of observation to see people in that space is so important. I'd love to know what your thoughts are on observation around how the COVID and safety is probably advance some new shopper behaviors, for example QR codes. If you go to a restaurant today, you're seeing a QR code as a way to get a menu and QR codes have been around, I don't know what 15, 20 years maybe.

Andy Murray: (23:19)

And yet we've never had an invite, we've never thought of, or at least I've tried to do it, never got traction on put in QR code and at least point of sale that lets you get more information about what's on that shelf. It was just like when a consumer adoption who just not going to use it, but I think that's changed. I mean, I think because of COVID that might be a place where the shopping can be a bit more digital, physical at the same time than being such a break. And you think about packaging and packaging being more interactive and people getting used to that, is that an area that the digital fiscal combination might show up more in physical retail.

Wendy Liebmann: (23:54)

I think that's true. The experience that you noted. I mean, I think I remember we took one of our clients on what we call one of our retail safaris around a very specific, not just store tours, very specific goal. And this was to understand, and this was about 10 years ago, one of the big packaged goods companies and we were looking at... took their whole [inaudible 00:24:13], the customer teams. I remember we were in Atlanta and we were looking at various stores that were using QR codes and how they could be adapted or adopted because retailers were saying QR codes, no QR codes, all of that. And the breakage issues then with things like they never work when they're in the store, the store had terrible wifi, all of those operational things and the use, there wasn't an urgency, it wasn't solving a problem.

Andy Murray: (24:40)

There wasn't a use case really.

Wendy Liebmann: (24:42)

No, that's right. And again, I have a very biased lens, it's through the shoppers' lens and it wasn't a solution to a problem that shoppers had, it was a new widget something.

Andy Murray: (24:53)

That's right.

Wendy Liebmann: (24:53)

I think today we're now forced into these like it or not technologies that are helping us either be more efficient, safer, be more informed that we're just being exposed to. So I think that QR codes or lots of other different tools that we have now, virtual reality... I mean, lots of wonderful technologies, in the appropriate place now come to play. So you're absolutely right. Restaurants, perfect option to do that, information on things. Now, the only issue is if I start to adopt that in a store, is it going to slow me up?

Andy Murray: (25:29)

Yeah, that's right. Comes back to time.

Wendy Liebmann: (25:31)

That's it. Do I bring it on my little phone? And I do all of that right here, can I scan the QR code? Will it slow me up? Do I do my homework before? We often hear people saying I saw that and then I went home and then I did my homework and then I ordered it online, look at the journey. So I think tools that become solutions and are efficient wherever they happen to be, there's an option now that [inaudible 00:25:59].

Andy Murray: (26:00)

I think you're absolutely right. I think there're some categories where maybe it's you've got allergies or food nutrition and you're very concerned, you want to do a sugar swap on something and the packaging is really difficult to get all of the things that today people want to know about. I could see a QR code especially if you've got some time to browse and you're really into food and you might see some applications where all of a sudden that transparency becomes a bit more easy to manage because the technology does that then trying to put everything on the package, which again can slow you down because it's so difficult for those that already buy that brand. I don't need all that and it's another thing.

Wendy Liebmann: (26:38)

And I'll also tell you I think it's... sorry, it's package concerns. In a packaging conversation, one of the interesting things and you asked me this before that we've seen throughout this is issues around sustainability.

Andy Murray: (26:51)

That's right.

Wendy Liebmann: (26:52)

And so we have seen that hold throughout the pandemic from our first research in April or March through to current workers, just literally out of a field that people see sustainability or caring for their environment and their communities as something that remains important. And in some cases it's increasing, particularly with younger shoppers, but not only. So that challenges the notion of all this packaging on the shelf, right? What does that packaging look like? Over-packaged, whatever. So the role of technology there where I can scan something on the shelf where it's a shelf tag, whether it's a virtual tag, whatever it is, the ability to eliminate some of that. I mean, all of these factors now start, come in a big way.

Andy Murray: (27:40)

It does almost take a whole triangulation of factors to make the move on some of these bigger changes because it is a big change in retail. It's a big change in [inaudible 00:27:48] shop and those don't come around very often. I would not have expected, I guess my own personal belief was sustainability would have dropped the trigger too at a couple of notches as we went through COVID, but it sounds like it's held, which I find that fascinating.

Wendy Liebmann: (28:02)

And remember, this is to your point, this is you are right. People, this is mindset, this is attitudes in our longitudinal work. We've always found that give people, they say it and three to six months later, they do it and we can see it reflected in purchase data and things like that. So we're trending that, but the fact that mindset has not changed, in that the people haven't said listen, I'm now spending money on other things, or I'm not spending on any of this, I don't care, I just need the basics and leave me alone. That would have been something I might've anticipated, let me get the best price and let me get it fast and whether it's good for the earth or not, whatever. But this pandemic I think, has grounded people in an understanding that this is something more global that we always say in times of chaos, shoppers try to take control of the things they can.

Wendy Liebmann: (28:55)

And sometimes it's as simple as how do I take care of my life, my family, my community and that's where things like sustainability and ingredients and things that normally we might've thought only come to bear in good times, that's very interesting that is now very much part of the everyday value proposition. I won't say for everybody, but certainly 40% of the population and it's not all money driven, not all income driven, that are saying and consistently have been saying no, that's an important value proposition, so many now.

Andy Murray: (29:34)

Well, and those that have made a bet on that as a future trend before COVID are going to be pleased to hear that because that sounds like it's going to stick. Speaking of that, I talk to a lot of customer journey experts and customer experience people and inevitably they will tell me that much of the work they're doing either in their own company or for clients is in the space of fixing dissatisfiers. Which dissatisfiers are probably pretty low hanging fruit to find and work with because customers are pretty vocal about that and you see it in NPS and other things. But they're also finding that it's difficult to get organizations sometimes to spend more time and energy into creating new customer experiences because the fundamental belief is it's hard to place bets on what they're going to do because they're dynamic, customers can't really tell you, the data doesn't predict that it's not going to come from the data science area.

Andy Murray: (30:29)

And so to place bets on creating future experiences versus just eliminating dissatisfiers can be quite challenging and it takes a different skillset. Now, from my knowledge of you and what you do, I would suggest you would probably agree that actually you can find with more confidence what customers want because they will eventually tell you or you'll see it, but you're not going to find it through traditional methods, you need to be in their shoes and get into those spaces. But what I'm suggesting is the customer, what would really satisfy them as new experience is there to be discovered because you can get to that. It's not a mystery that you're going to place huge bets on the future and they're probably further ahead of you than you think.

Andy Murray: (31:12)

So you've got lots of head room to build out that next thing with more confidence and I'm just trying to encourage more companies to think about the new experiences in order to stay ahead and move ahead than just looking at eliminating dissatisfiers. Biggest challenge is how do you really know what customers want and that's kind of one of the main reasons I wanted to talk to you today because that's what you specialize in. So give our listeners some confidence, you can have more confidence in designing that future state.

Wendy Liebmann: (31:41)

Yeah, no, it's absolutely true. And sometimes particularly over the last decade or so, as data has become so available and the analytics have become so powerful that we do forget as I said before about the sort of art and the science. The opportunity now is to yes, look at all the science, look at the big data, but I have a very good colleague in Europe who talks about little small data and it is either the small numbers, who are those people and what are they doing? Are they leaders? And or it's that very intimate relationship with the individual consumer in their life and their shopping behavior. And I think one of the things there is, we are all inherently shoppers. You'll sit in a room of executives and they'll say, no, no, no, I don't do the shopping, I hate shopping, I do it, whatever.

Wendy Liebmann: (32:33)

I must say it's still often a male thing, I don't do the shopping, I've got somebody to do that, we'll discuss that later. But this whole conversation around how do I remind myself what it's like to be a shopper because everybody shops for something, I don't care if you're shopping for a new car or a technology, or a pair of sneakers, or whatever, you shop for something. So to remind yourself first that you are a shopper and what are some of those issues that you face and also loves that you have, gets the executive in a totally different mindset. So this isn't all about you observing the shopper, it's about observing yourself as a shopper.

Wendy Liebmann: (33:13)

We did a presentation for potential client a number of years ago and not too long ago, but anyway we were sitting, I went into sort of pitch who we were and aren't we lovely and there was a whole group of executives from the CEO to whomever. Store design and planning, and they're all around the room and they're listening to me talk about new insights we have, I thought they're listening but they're not engaged. So I stopped and I said, you know what? Let's talk about shopping and tell me about your favorite shopping experience. And all of a sudden this group of executives [inaudible 00:33:46] and were like oh, oh, oh, and it was shoes and it was motorbikes and it was food and it was wine and it was this diverse and they weren't in any of those businesses.

Wendy Liebmann: (33:56)

But the passion and the challenges that all of a sudden emerge and open their minds to actually that's what that means and that's how I have to think with step one. So how do I the imperative today of ensuring that management and I would suggest it's very high levels, think about the shopper customer in very intimate ways that they don't divorce themselves as I'm an executive and they're the shopper is one thing. I think that's really important, top-down. The other piece is how do we understand the life our shoppers have? So perfect example, Walmart example, I know I'm allowed to say that. A Walmart example is with one of the Walmart senior executives a number of years ago, he and I were walking the stores and we walked down the beauty aisle.

Wendy Liebmann: (34:48)

And as we walked down that aisle and there were... Walmart had just created these universal fixtures because beauty always gave Walmart a headache, too many SKUs, whatever, whoever's. Universal fixtures, all of this stuff. And I sent him, you need a mirror in this aisle. And he said to me oh yeah, there's the cost and there's the breakage and then people will open the lipsticks and now, because they'll want to put them on and all of this. I said, no, no, no, you don't understand this. Think about here's a woman walking down the aisle and she's got her shopping cart, she's got two kids, she's got a list of things to do, she may need a black mascara. That's her essential, oh gee, I need a black... or lip gloss, so whatever it is. One thing that she's just got to drop in the basket.

Wendy Liebmann: (35:30)

And all of a sudden she goes past a mirror and that mirror will as an emotional touch point, will stop her in the aisle and either she will say oh my heavens, I could use a little lipstick. Gee, don't I look a bit tired or she will say oh my heavens, I forgot I'm a woman. I'm thinking of myself as a mother and a worker and a juggler and a whatever, oh gee. And so it's being able to interpret those moments in a very emotional way. What is the emotional touch point? And I think they're the things that become really important today as we're trying to dig deep into the shifts that we're seeing that are not revealed in the data that says either what was, or what is now, but we're not sure to your question, how long that's going to last. Now we have to get to the really intimate fundamentals of emotional connection.

Andy Murray: (36:26)

Well, and you actually are making two really good points there in addition to getting to those deeper truths, changing that experience doesn't have to be a complete refit. And there's a big myth that being more customer centric is a costly journey and it's actually sometimes those very little things that make a difference. I was on a store visit in Florida years ago in a drug store I went into and they had used a mirror in a very clever way. It was in the hair coloring section and they had one up high enough on a 45. Now, I thought that was a bit vicious because, but it worked because you're walking-

Wendy Liebmann: (37:00)

Of course.

Andy Murray: (37:00)

You say oh, I see my roots.

Wendy Liebmann: (37:01)

Roots, roots.

Andy Murray: (37:03)

Exactly. Same kind of-

Wendy Liebmann: (37:06)


Andy Murray: (37:06)

Brilliant yet easy to execute. Just put that up at that 45 and she'll see the roots and she's going to be shopping and so very small costs.

Wendy Liebmann: (37:14)

That's right.

Andy Murray: (37:14)

But it just probably came from somebody really being creative and thinking about and watching what causes the triggers for that are more emotionally deep.

Wendy Liebmann: (37:23)

The other thing I'll say is we often forget the value of the people in the store. Now, we've learned that through all of this through COVID because of the essential workers. But we often forget these little emotional moments and I can think of two. One, another Walmart experience where I was in one of the big super centers and it was just early days of Walmart doing order online pickup in the store. And just, Walmart had just changed the name from an associate to a personal shopper, which seemed like really? Really? Come on Walmart. But I was walking through the store, I saw a fellow picking an order and I knew what he was doing, but I pretended to be a shopper.

Wendy Liebmann: (38:03)

And I asked hi, good morning. How are you? What are you doing? And he said oh, I'm picking an order, I'm pulling together an order for a customer. And I said that's interesting. He said yes, [inaudible 00:38:13] already explained it to me and what he was doing and I said that's really interesting. I said oh, I guess that could be... you could be doing my order tomorrow. And he said to me, that would be my pleasure.

Andy Murray: (38:25)

Lovely, lovely thought.

Wendy Liebmann: (38:27)

So, I tell you the story and I get weepy because it saw me, I saw him. And the other one I'll say really quickly is the value of the person at the checkout, or the value at the person at the self-checkout, whatever it is. You have that person who actually you give them a credit card and they say thank you Wendy when they hand it back and you think, how did they know my name? Stupid, of course they know. Or it's the person, the associate in the store who's got a name on their badge. Well, guess what? Hello Andy, how are you today?

Andy Murray: (38:59)


Wendy Liebmann: (38:59)

In these moments, the value of that especially as people will spend, make fewer trips to the store in the near term and spend less time in the store. The value of that one-to-one connection in the smallest possible ways is so powerful today and I think they're things that those people who are already in the stores.

Andy Murray: (39:25)

Well, and just to put some data behind that, I noticed from my experience in [inaudible 00:39:30] in Walmart, friendly associates can make up for a lot of problems in a trip. And that friendly associates, someone's actually ranked and looked at it from a customer promoter score from that shop and the data continues to support that is actually a thing. I mean, it is an important thing for customers to find a friendly associate and they could write a lot of wrongs, which sometimes those are going to happen in the retail space no matter what. So Wendy, one last question for you, we get to speak to and work with a lot of students at the university of Arkansas. I would love to hear any perspective you might have around how students or those just entering the workforce might be worth knowing in terms of building on this craft of how do you listen to customers, or what should they be paying attention to, to have a career that is informed by customer insights, the way you're talking about it?

Wendy Liebmann: (40:21)

Yeah. I think it's a combination. I think it's a... this being able to remember who you are as a shopper, that sounds very touchy, touchy, feely, feely, but I think that reminds you of who you are trying to connect with. I think it's understanding the power of a physical and digital space to really transform an experience. Sometimes we think about retail as just the you know, you get a job there over the summer and you pack bags, or stock shelves, or whatever, but this is a place in a space that has very strong emotional connections on an everyday basis. So I think it's recognizing it isn't just the metrics in a what do we sell today and what didn't we sell, but it is understanding the power of retail to connect emotionally. I think the other piece is understanding the broader context.

Wendy Liebmann: (41:22)

I might sell this, or I might choose to work in this kind of retail space. But what we all know is that today people will buy anything anyway, truly anything anywhere. And even though we're trying to be efficient and buy everything under one roof, sometimes if we see it in the car wash and we see a greeting card or lip gloss, we'll probably buy that there. So that notion as somebody who is educating themselves about the space, means that I really need to be both observer in a broad sense of the context of how people live their lives and I need to also be really smart at looking at the data. But not just the big data, the small data of who are those 10% or 15% of people and why are they doing what they are doing? It is a fascinating profession. I talk about the joy of retail all the time because there's an immediacy to it, I put something out and it works or it doesn't work, but staying connected emotionally as well as analytically becomes really, really important in this business.

Andy Murray: (42:25)

Yeah. I love it. I love it. I'm with you. I think retail's fascinating and exciting and it's so important to stay observant and curious. A little challenge I put out sometimes is think about your routine every single day and then look at one thing that you can see that you never saw before on your way to work and just train yourself to be observant in even the routine because you can feel like retail's a bit routine. It does have routine to it, but to stay curious where everyday you find something, just one thing you hadn't noticed before and it's amazing what you'll see.

Wendy Liebmann: (42:58)

That's curiosity is when we are looking to hire somebody, curiosity is one of the characteristics beyond the technical skills that we are always looking for. I will tell you the best opportunities, used to be sitting on the New York City subway, it's amazing what you would see on the subway from advertising to people and that was my greatest inspiration every day. So I miss that at the moment, but that's all right, that's [inaudible 00:43:22].

Andy Murray: (43:23)

[inaudible 00:43:23].

Wendy Liebmann: (43:23)

I'm around. Exactly. Exactly.

Andy Murray: (43:26)

Well Wendy, this has been a real privilege for me to talk to you for this hour and I've continued to learn a lot and be inspired by your work. You clearly have your hand on this practice area in spades and have helped many, many companies. So I just want to let you know how much appreciate I it and we'll put it in the show notes ways for people to get in touch with you for those that might want to find out more about what you're working on. Any big plans for travel soon?

Wendy Liebmann: (43:51)

Emotionally, if you're asking-

Andy Murray: (43:52)

Emotionally if traveling.

Wendy Liebmann: (43:53)

Where was I supposed to be today? I was supposed to actually be in India. So I'm doing India in my head at the moment. So that's, you know, that too. There's lots of things to anticipate and we'll just ease into it like everything else.

Andy Murray: (44:05)

Yes. Well, well done and again, thank you so much. I'm sure the students and practitioners alike they'll be listening to this, will get much from it. So thank you again.

Wendy Liebmann: (44:13)

My pleasure. Thank you Andy.

Andy Murray: (44:20)

You just listened to an amazing conversation with Wendy Liebmann. Wendy is a prolific leader in the customer experience space and her work at WSL strategic retail has provided amazing shopper insights that everyone can benefit from. Wendy shared with us some of her research insights on COVID-19 and shopper trends, the importance of looking at small chunks of data to analyze and gain meaningful insights rather than the whole. And she also gave encouraging advice to students who are looking to engage in the customer journey and customer experience fields. Thank you Wendy.

Andy Murray: (45:00)

That's it for this episode of It's a Customer's World. If you found this helpful and entertaining, I would be so grateful if you could share our show with your friends and I'd be super happy if you subscribe so you can be updated as we publish new episodes. And if you really want to help, leave us a five star rating and a positive review on Apple podcast or wherever you listen. It's a Customer's World podcast is a product of the University of Arkansas customer centric leadership initiative, and a Walton College original production. 

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