Q&A: Valassis’ Sarah O’Grady Shares Consumer Behavior Trends

Jessie Dowd
Editorial Director
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Cheryl Rusa posing for the camera

Consumer behavior has rapidly shifted over the course of the last year and a half, giving rise to new patterns that brands and retailers have had to quickly adapt to. So which changes in shopper behavior are here to stay, and what emerging trends can brands expect to see over the longer term? Path to Purchase IQ (virtually) sat down with Sarah O’Grady, VP of Brand Marketing at Valassis, A Vericast Business, to discuss these consumer shifts and the findings from their recently released 2021 Consumer Intel Report

You can also hear more insights from O’Grady during her virtual session, “What People Really Want from Brands in This Post-Pandemic Moment,” at 3 p.m. on Sept. 14 during the Shopper Insights and Measurement Forum.

P2PIQ: With consumer sentiments and behaviors shifting dramatically over the course of the last year and a half, what do you think will be a long-term shift that will affect brands and retailers the most?

Your question is timely as just this morning we issued our “2021 Consumer Intel Report,” which reveals how marketers can capitalize on a new paradigm of shifting consumer habits, perceptions and expectations. While these have changed, there is an opportunity to capitalize on consumer desire to return to “normal,” but do so with cautious optimism. As marketers look to align with this new paradigm, they must understand and cater to consumers’ current sentiment. 

P2PIQ: How can brands adapt their strategies to respond to these consumer behavior shifts?

O’Grady: Our study released today indicated a rise of a more conscious consumer. It is important that the brands they purchase from have values aligning with their own. For example, Millennial parents are more likely to be loyal to a brand or store that shares its efforts to be environmentally responsible or has sustainable or ethical business practices. Sustainability is worth a financial commitment for some, and they are willing to pay more for sustainable products.

P2PIQ: What does this mean for brand activations moving forward and into 2022?

O’Grady: Following a period of uncertainty, consumers are now seeking out stability and familiarity.  They prefer a brand or store that provides a consistent experience that is authentic and engaging. There are four definitive ways to generate authentic customer engagement: Use messaging that conveys forward momentum, promote health and safety measures, demonstrate a social conscience, and take advantage of in-store retail with promotions and memorable experiences.

P2PIQ: What are the implications for the in-store experience?

O’Grady: There is a clear willingness among consumers to return to pre-pandemic activities, albeit tempered with some caution. The in-store experience is going to become more critical than ever as consumers are eager to return and engage more closely with the brands they buy from. Consumers prefer to buy products they can smell, touch or try on in-store. Retailers can capitalize on this behavior with more seamless experiences and timely discounts.

P2PIQ: What role will special offers and deals play?

O’Grady: Saving money is still a main driver of consumer purchase behavior. A majority of respondents in our “Consumer Intel” survey indicated that the most important thing when shopping for grocery products is to save the most money by going to a store with the lowest price. More than half said a sale will drive an impulse purchase.  

P2PIQ: Which emerging trend should brands and retailers be sure to keep a close eye on?

O’Grady: The housing boom is a trend to keep an eye on and signals opportunity for retailers. People are spending more time and/or money improving their home. In fact, the study found that 75% of Millennial parents, 73% of parents and 69% of Millennials have purchased home comfort items within the last six months with more than half (52%) of all consumers intending to make a purchase in the next six months.