retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB took note of a Pew Research study last week that reported on how a) women were "marrying down" at greater rates than ever, which means, by their definition, marrying men who are less educated. The same study noted that even better educated women often make less than their husbands.

None of which surprised me. Still, I thought it worth reporting.

One MNB reader responded:

Correlation does not imply causation…

Education only opens the door, compensation is tied to getting results. (unless you work for Government).

Just having a MBA or CPA has yet to come up on my wife’s annual review as an Accounting manager, she is compensated for her contribution not her degrees.

True. Correlation does not imply causation.

However, I think it has been pretty well documented that in this country, when men and women are working equivalent jobs, there are an awful lot of cases where the men makes more money for no apparent reason other than gender. It is changing, but it remains a fact of life with which many women have to deal.

We also had a story the other day about PillPacks, described as "an end-to-end pharmacy and delivery service for pharmaceuticals that is using design to vastly simplify the process of swallowing pills each day. You don't have to worry about pillboxes, reminders, or refills; PillPack takes care of all that for you. All you need to do is tear off the latest M&M Fun Size packet and swallow what's inside when it tells you to."

One MNB user wrote:

I’m amazed such things as the PillPacks aren’t more broadly available and haven’t been for years.  Pfizer started providing just such a product for horse supplements at least a decade ago.  All the supplements were included in one pouch, and there was a pouch for each day.  Just peel off the top and mix with the horse’s daily feed.  If this was being done for horses ten years ago how did it take so long to be broadly available for humans!

Don't get me started.

I think that pharmacies that begin offering such services will have themselves a differential advantage.

Of course, some probably will charge an arm and a leg for the service, putting it in the same category as offering to flavor liquid medicines so they are more easily drinkable, and then charging for that. I've always felt that there is something perverse about that … you'd think pharmacies would want to make every medicine more pleasant tasting, and that this would simply be part of the service. But nope …

On another subject, MNB reader Doug Madenberg wrote:

Kevin, wanted to challenge something you reported about Walmart’s mobile app, as it relates to the recent MNB discussion about the merits of market research.  Not sure who concluded that the effort is “a clear sign that the retail giant’s efforts to use mobile to improve its business in the digital age is working" – if it was Fast Company or the material they received from Walmart’s camp.  But just based on the facts provided, this conclusion is flawed.  And it’s a great example of how research findings can be misapplied, to your earlier point.  It goes back to the old saying that “correlation is not the same thing as causality.”

It’s no surprise that those who use Walmart’s app “make twice the shopping trips per month and spend 40% more than non-app users.” But is app usage CAUSING those customers to spend more and shop more often than non-users?  It’s possible but highly doubtful.  It would indeed be impressive if those app users spent 40% more than they USED to spend… that would be a better comparison to make the case.
To me it seems far more likely that more frequent Walmart usage and spend are predictors of app usage.  After all, frequent customers and heavy spenders benefit the most from making it easier to plan their trip, organize their list, access savings, etc (whatever the app does).  That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with pursuing a mobile initiative if it makes your heavy customers more engaged and committed; but this is of course different than the suggestion that Walmart can/will vastly improve its business simply by pursuing these mobile efforts.

And, on another subject, from another reader:

Two of your recent articles caught my eye and converged - - about consumers not immediately flocking to 'better' grocery stores in food desert areas, and also about Chick-fil-A making changes to its chicken supply after consumer pressure.

I was lucky enough to go to a regional IFT meeting where Dr. Michael Jacobson of CSPI was the featured speaker.  One of his main points to the food technologists in attendance was that food science can make products healthier while still tasting good -- these products exist today (albeit sometimes at higher cost and more limited availability) and it's only up to consumers to adopt them.

He also commented on how difficult and lengthy it has been over the years to effect changes in reducing fat, sodium and sugar levels by working through government agencies and corporations who have profits at stake.   Dr. Jacobson showed that after decades of effort, there have been only modest overall improvements in consumers' eating habits (excepting reduced sugared soda consumption) - - fat, sugar and sodium intake remain sky-high, fruit and vegetable consumption is down per capita, and foodservice offerings are not making great strides forward in nutritional content.

Two observations:

First, to your point of 'you can lead a horse to water', consumers are highly resistant to: change to their habits, increased cost, or perceived change to their products' taste.  Trying to get consumers to go to another store or try healthier products will run up against one or more of these barriers and it would be very difficult to effect large-scale change quickly.  The landscape is littered with grand ideas that landed with a thud by expecting too much of consumers too soon.

I would differ a bit from your prescription to "employ the exact same marketing and merchandising techniques that are used to get people to buy $5 cups of coffee, luxury automobiles, and high-definition televisions".  In the case of adopting healthier eating habits, it's more than just up-selling to a more expensive version of what people are already using.  Coffee, cars and TVs are well-established habits (and remember, Starbucks is now 40 years old).

Changing food habits requires a program of continued education, simple tips/recipes that are culturally and demographically relevant to the target consumer, combined with regular incentives and reminders to start the process of change - - and a lot of perseverance.

On the other hand, the pendulum of influence in the food supply is quickly swinging toward the consumer.  What might have taken CSPI (or equivalent watchdog group) months or years to get action through lawsuits or lobbying is being accelerated by consumer advocates like the Food Babe (who knew?) who are mobilizing via online petitions and applying direct public pressure to corporations.  Witness recent changes in formulations at Subway, Kraft Mac and Cheese, Gatorade, etc due to consumer campaigns.

Once again, misjudge consumer behavior at your own risk.
KC's View: