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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.

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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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