The Checkout Revolution is Here

The Checkout Revolution is Here

The Checkout Revolution is Here

Checkout has long been the bane of in-store shopping experiences, marked by long lines and cumbersome processes that slow the shopper down. Many shoppers have learned to love aspects of the online shopping experience, particularly the purchase moment. Although complicated in its own right, the end of online purchases is often far faster and less rife with frustrations than in-store checkouts. But the vast majority of retail purchases in the US are made in-store, despite a fairly steady rise in eCommerce spending. This is why many retailers are reimagining the in-store experience and focusing on the checkout pain point. 

Just Walk Out (JWO) is an Amazon technology which allows shoppers to authenticate through their Amazon account at store entry, thereafter automatically tracking and charging the account only for what each shopper carries out of the store. A system of cameras in the ceiling paired with strategically placed weigh sensors works extremely well – after 80 purchases in Go stores I have never had an incorrect charge. This technology has been licensed to other shops, like Hudson News at many airports, and seems like a natural fit for small-to-medium shopping trips like on-the-go meals and topping up on household staples.

Pop over to Amazon Fresh and the experience is focused on the Dash Cart, chosen because shoppers on grocery stock-up missions want to track purchases as they go. The cart automatically senses items that it’s carrying and uses the shopper’s Amazon account for secure payment. This technology brings the same speed and convenience benefits as JWO and is a more conducive fit considering the store format. 


Just Walk Out

Sam’s Club has been using Scan & Go for some time, which allows shoppers to use the Sam’s app to scan barcodes as they shop, then produces a QR code for an attendant to scan on your way out. While this solution allowed shoppers to skip the checkout line, it still required active scanning by the shopper. However, the retailer just started rolling out an AI-powered solution that should eliminate receipt-checking when exiting the store.

This technology is still in its early days, and when I tried it for myself I was still stopped by an employee to scan my receipt. But the trajectory appears obvious that the retailer aims to one day eliminate that human touchpoint, which would bring their checkout and store-exit experience at parity with other retailers. Taken a step further, this technology could one day eliminate the need to scan product barcodes in the first place. This could mean a shopper would load their shopping cart and walk out of the store without scanning a single thing – much like customers are able to do today at Amazon stores. 

Several Catapult clients are working on yet-to-be-announced technologies to make shopping and purchase experiences better for customers. We see a potential challenge in disparate experiences existing across retailers, making previously mundane tasks no longer feel like second nature to shoppers. This is why we’re working closely with our clients to devise optimal education and rollout strategies that balance new benefits with acceptable learning curves.



NPD Success Culminates with Home Use Test

NPD Success Culminates with Home Use Test

NPD Success Culminates with Home Use Test

For nearly two years, Catapult has partnered with Delta Faucet Company to better understand hair care needs, specifically for those with curly, textured hair in support of building a go-to-market strategy for an innovative new tool. After multiple initiatives to get it right, ranging from an Attitude & Usage study, qualitative research, message development and concept evaluations, and pricing studies, we partnered on what might be the final piece of pre-launch research: a Home Use Test (HUT). 

The tool, known as VersaCurlTM, is already turning heads and winning accolades after it was announced at KBIS. That industry show was happening right around the time we were wrapping up our 10-week HUT, which chronicled real-world experiences and perceptions of the tool.

This seemed like a good time to talk about a few tips to run a successful HUT, based on this and many other experiences we’ve had over the past decade.

Home Use Test

Nail the Timing

There’s a lot that can be said under this marquee, so I’ll just hit one of the most important. Avoid incurring costs until prototypes are in-hand. Anything and everything is possible when fabricating something for the first time, and the last thing you want is to rack up recruiting costs and then have to delay or re-recruit because prototypes weren’t ready. Do what Delta did and allow time to receive and QC everything before marching forward.

Know the Reason

There are limitations to what HUTs can help us as researchers learn. They aren’t recommended for understanding price perceptions or examining the purchase consideration process because respondents are trying the product without having to buy or consider it in the first place. But HUTs are great for confirming which benefits a product can deliver or uncovering design issues that result from how a product is used (and abused). We know humans are curious creatures that represent an x-factor, and this means intended uses can be overlooked or alternative purposes developed as people live with a product.

Nail the Timing (Again!)

In the spirit of leaving no stone unturned, it’s often vital to allow respondents plenty of time to use a product – especially for truly novel innovations. HUTs should be used to simulate trial and adoption periods, which means the duration of the HUT should be sufficient to allow repeated use. This gives us a close look at how and if a product fits within existing behaviors, or perhaps becomes central to all-new routines. Learning curves and experimentation pathways are important for marketers and product teams to observe because it might necessitate messaging or product design adjustments.

HUTs are a specific research tool for a specific job, and they are quite powerful when conducted thoughtfully. Volumes could be written about what to do and not do in a HUT, but I’ll save that for another day. If you have questions about if a HUT is right for you, or how to make it as successful as possible, we’re easy to find and always happy to share our experience.

Justin Sutton


On Careers…

On Careers…

On Careers…

I’ve had several people reach out recently to discuss their career paths. Each person was in such a different place, so it stands to reason the advice I had to share looked quite different. It made me think about the different moments in my career, advice I’ve been given, and what sage wisdom is worth sharing with the world. So, let’s take a look at a few scenarios and the considerations impacting each.

There seemed to be a common denominator in each of the situations: a slow grind. This is when you find yourself treading water for too long, not ascending and feeling restless. The fascinating thing about this is that it can happen across so many levels, and it can feel just as frustrating at each. For those early in their careers, it can seem as if you may never break through a middling level of success to a place where your work can stand out and you can feel seen. For those deeper into careers, this situation feels like a glass ceiling preventing you from maximizing your skillset and applying it to a strategic level in the organization.

career advice

Like most situations, how you handle it is highly dependent on the organization. Jill and I spoke with someone recently who was ready for a new challenge. This person had excelled within their current position and made a fantastic brand for themself, but they effectively outworked the position they were in. This is a tough spot to find yourself, and equally tough for an employer. On one hand, an org could create a position which maps to the individual’s skill set, which seems like a fantastic idea on the surface. But what happens when that individual eventually moves on, as people are apt to do? It leaves a void in the org that was so tailored to an individual that it becomes impossible to backfill, necessitating a reorg.

I found myself in a similar position after my first job after college: I had built a mountain of assets that outpaced the company’s sales trajectory, leaving me in an awkward place. Even when the org is a great place to work, if there’s not a clear path forward or your skills are outmatching your position, it can be time to move on. These situations often result in boomerang rehires, so remember not to close the door behind you.

I met another person who returned to work after spending a few years building a family. She was working for an organization that had a peculiar habit of not promoting people with less than 10 years of tenure, regardless of experience or performance. Pair this with the people who were ascending being ill-fitting for their leadership positions and it becomes an extremely frustrating situation. This is an immediate red flag, because any organization that will ignore, or worse, not recognize the capabilities of their people is not prepared to make good decisions for themselves or their people. This creates a terrible situation rife with mentally-challenging “am I good enough” moments. When this person’s boss departed and the org would not even consider her for the position, despite being the perfect match, I advised this person to move on. She is now thriving in a much healthier work environment. 

Another person in a similar situation was feeling unsatisfied with their salary, feeling the slow slog was wasting their prime earning years. This is a very real feeling that I can empathize with. In my 20s I was frustrated by the feeling of putting in what seemed like more effort than my superiors and receiving far less compensation. In my 30s I made some career moves that aligned more with organizations that were structured differently and taking positions that had clearer sight-lines to revenue generation. I think when it comes to compensation concerns it’s important to step back and examine whether your position or the company’s structure is the right fit for your goals.

Consider the ownership structure, because that directs a lot of the financial goals of the org. Venture capital-owned companies are often in a cycle of shaving costs while driving growth, which can feel like a meat-grinder. I worked for a company in which I was being asked to train low-cost labor overseas to do the same work I did in preparation to sell the company. This didn’t sit well, and I ended up walking away from a promotion offer to start a new job elsewhere. In the following year the org I left went through several rounds of layoffs as they continued on their cost-cutting path.

Looking back, I’d say my career is spotted with as many fumbles as there were smart moves, but I really value and appreciate the mentors I had in my life who helped guide me when I felt lost. I love being able to share perspective with others almost as much as I enjoy learning from those who have come before me, and while I am no career guru, my door is always open.


 Justin Sutton


Online Shopping in the Digital Age – Time Saver or Energy Waster?

Online Shopping in the Digital Age – Time Saver or Energy Waster?

Online Shopping in the Digital Age – Time Saver or Energy Waster?

Does the following situation sound familiar – something small or mundane breaks around the house, something you haven’t had to buy in a few years, so you search online for a replacement and you get bombarded by a jungle of products and brands?

Let me paint a picture with my own personal example: I was cooking dinner and my trusty can opener broke, I sighed and resigned myself to buying a replacement before bed. Fast forward to evening and as I was laying in bed and remembered my task; I grabbed my phone and typed in “can opener” and was met with an avalanche of results with each listing attempting to differentiate itself with clever marketing and technologies. An hour passes, nothing has been purchased, and now a feeling of anxiety sets in because every product feels just different enough to warrant consideration. I put my phone down, annoyed, with a new goal of buying a can opener the next day.

TOO MUCH CHOICE has a great research review of what they call choice overload – it’s basically what the name implies, too many choices for consumers means a complete breakdown of the purchase process. I remember being in my college marketing class discussing cognitive dissonance and choice paralysis impacting consumers across the globe – 20+ years later and things have only intensified as we enter a matured digital age. Because of a global marketplace where cross-country shipping is, at worst, less than $100 (depending on the item’s weight) and at best, free; there is ample supply of every gadget and doo-dad, every shoe on the planet for you to pick from, and a mountain of rechargeable batteries to peruse. There is so much to pick from today, the time and energy needed to shop even basic items has skyrocketed.

To further illustrate the scale of choice available to us, Harvard Business Review has an article written around the time I was in high school highlighting decision paralysis and how it represents a bad thing for most brands. It details an experiment where there were 2 tables at an upscale food market, one table had 24 different kinds of jam, and on another day, the table would have 6 varieties. People bought something from the 6-variety table MORE than the 24-variety table.


Hear me out on this one – I believe our lives as consumers would be far more enjoyable if every product search led to a purchase. We could all probably do with less stuff, but that isn’t the point I’m making here, it’s more around the notion that we actually buy what we set out to buy, on the first go.

Decision paralysis is defined as the inability to decide out of fear of making the wrong choice. Most of the time, this is the reason why we don’t buy the first thing that pops up when we search for a product online – what if I buy the wrong product? The New York Times has an article about this as well, they conclude by suggesting that just because we can search endlessly for any given product, doesn’t mean we should.


As market researchers and consultants, Catapult thinks about a lot of things that may not seem relevant in the moment, but we do so to make sure we have an opinion and stance on a given topic when the need arises. Shopping is time consuming and draining in modern times, so to my fellow consumers I say, set a time limit (like researching for 15 mins) and then buy the thing you were looking to buy and be done with it. Of course, the more costly the item, the more time it would take to make a good decision, but don’t fall down that endless researching trap If you feel drained and tired, you probably should just make your decision and move on.

For the brand and product managers in the audience, a similar set of advice could be offered – help consumers make choices by trimming down product lines to minimize choice, being clear with your advertising communications with the key points consumers are looking for to make a decision for purchase, and having those communications be in the right place and time for the consumer. If you want help with any of these things, it just so happens I know some talented researchers and strategists.

Now excuse me – I still have a can opener to buy.



Andre Barroso


Swimming in Data

Swimming in Data

Swimming in Data

What do coffee giants, durable goods companies, alcohol brands, tech titans, and QSRs have in common? No, this isn’t a dad-joke, it’s something I’ve noticed over the past 6 months. It turns out that many research organizations are reviewing past work through a revised lens to mine for new perspective. The idea of a research audit is not new, but the volume and frequency of these requests is worth talking about. 

Last year I wrote about an awesome experience I had supporting a client with incredibly quick-turn work. More recently, this Bias for Action-focused client found themselves swimming in insights from dozens of different projects and in need of assistance to organize and identify knowledge gaps on the topic of customer experience. While individual projects each had CX-related insights, the overall objectives were more tactical in nature. They had the data and insights, they just lived in multiple places. That’s why we brought the insights together to tell a more focused story.

But there’s a trend going around. Perhaps organizations are doing more with less, or perhaps they don’t want to let good insights go to waste. Or maybe change is afoot and there’s still value in exploring where you came from. In any case, I feel fortunate that Catapult is able to help our colleagues and clients roll with it.

Justin Sutton


The Case for Occasion-Based Segmentation

The Case for Occasion-Based Segmentation

The Case for Occasion-Based Segmentation

This past month has been a busy one for my family, which means we’ve been eating meals on the go more often than usual. Between work travel, a family road trip, clients visiting my city, afterschool activities, and just an overscheduled social life, we’ve probably eaten out more than a dozen times this month, many of which were at QSRs. While that is a bit out of the ordinary for us, it isn’t completely unheard of for my busy family of 5. What’s interesting is when I look back at what was driving each of my trips to a QSR this month, they actually differed quite a bit.


First it was a weekday trip to McDonald’s after my daughter’s very first cheerleading performance. Our entire family was together, and we needed something fast as we were running behind schedule due to the performance going late, and we needed something all 3 kids would like. So, we swung by the McD’s drive thru for some cheeseburgers and fries.

Next, was a solo work trip where I was at the airport around lunch time and needed to grab something healthy to eat that was packed for travel to take with me on the plane, plus I needed a boost of caffeine.  I opted for an iced coffee and packaged snack box at the airport Starbucks to give me the energy boost I needed.

My last example is when I had lunch with a client between a day full of meetings. We found ourselves with a free hour around lunchtime and needed something tasty, filling, with a vegetarian option, and in an environment where we could sit and talk. We opted for a local QSR that had a fantastic patio and a great selection of protein bowls — it was a perfect fit for our needs.

qual segmentation

Even though I’m the same person at each QSR visit over the last month, I was purchasing for different reasons and had very different needs each time:

      • Family, something for everyone, quick
      • Healthy, on-the-go/portable, caffeine boost
      • Relaxed environment/seating, filling, vegetarian options

It’s well known in the market research industry that consumer segmentation is a powerful tool for marketing, product, service and experience development, and brand leadership – it gives you the guidance for who, when, where, and how to reach your target customers. In our previous segmentation blog posts we outlined Catapult’s core elements for a successful segmentation, when you might consider a refresh, and the role qual plays in segmentation. But another important consideration is the type of segmentation you employ because when it comes to segmentation, one size does not fit all.

Traditional person-based segmentation works well for many brands and categories, but it can fall short when you’re dealing with higher frequency categories such as QSR, food and beverage, CPG, and travel. In those higher frequency categories, we often find that the occasion drives the needs and motivations behind each purchase more so than the person. This can make for a messy and non-actionable person-based segmentation solution. In these cases, we like to explore segmenting by occasion or interaction with the category rather than by the person – an occasion-based segmentation solution.

We often have clients in high-frequency categories struggling to implement a person-based segmentation solution and one of their biggest questions is “how can we make our segmentation more actionable?”. To answer this question, let’s explore the differences between and benefits of person-based and occasion-based segmentation.

Person-Based Segmentation

Person-based segmentation is a traditional approach to segmentation that many brands employ. It blends different dimensions of consumers (attitudes, behaviors, demographics, perceptions) to create distinct, identifiable, and statistically differentiated groups or segments of people. This type of segmentation is well-known by marketers and product developers. When done well, it is a very useful tool for creating marketing strategies, communications plans, and new products. It’s often easy to understand because each person gets assigned to one segment and typically stays in that segment. Profiles and personas are created and the brand team can really visualize and understand who the segments are — you get to know them.

The Case for Occasion-Based Segmentation

However, needs, motivations, and behaviors vary for each interaction or purchase in higher frequency categories, presenting a challenge for person-based segmentation solutions. In high-frequency categories (like my QSR experiences this month) it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to segment a person with such varying needs into stable person-based segments. 

On top of that, it can be extremely challenging to uncover how to meet a customer’s exact needs at the right moment with this type of solution since they are situationally dependent.  This is where occasion-based segmentation comes in. This approach is also designed to create distinct, identifiable, and statistically differentiated segments, but the difference this time is that instead of representing a person, the segments represent the occasion for interaction with your category or brand. And, unlike person-based segmentation where one person is assigned to and stays in one segment, in occasion-based segmentation one person will likely belong to multiple segments, or occasions. 

An Example of Occasions

Let’s look at how this might play out in a QSR setting using a few examples from my month of QSR experiences. Right away I see a few different occasions popping up:

    • On-the-go group dinner – A quick, easy meal on the go that fulfills the needs of a group. Less concern about healthy options as this is an unplanned occasion so you’re flexible, prioritizing convenience over health.
    • Midday fuel with a caffeine boost – A need for food + caffeine, but you’re on the go so packaging must be portable, and healthy is a must. Food and caffeine needs take equal priority in this occasion. 
    • Relaxing lunch – A midday break to relax in a welcoming environment conducive to conversation, but also provides a tasty selection of food options to fill you up.

Those are just 3 examples of potential QSR occasions that a single person could experience.  Just by reading those initial descriptions you can already see the different needs for product development, messaging, and even packaging start to emerge for each occasion segment.

But let’s think about how that would play out in a person-based segmentation solution where a person needs to be assigned to one single segment. Is my segment one that prioritizes healthy food or not? Am I in a rush or looking to relax? Do I prioritize beverages with food or not? The answer to all those questions is ‘both’ which makes for a pretty messy person-based segment with unclear needs and motivations, and can leave marketers, product developers, and brand teams scratching their heads. In this case, occasion-based segmentation can provide a more actionable solution that a brand can develop strategies around.

Benefits of Occasion-Based Segmentation

Since occasion-based segmentations are often done on the category level, not just for a particular brand, it can help highlight your brand’s strengths and weaknesses across occasions and identify white space where occasions exist that no brand out there is really fulfilling. The data collected for an occasion-based segmentation is also incredibly rich. You’re able to learn an incredible amount about what the consumers in your category are doing, what motivates them, what their needs are, and where they are going to try to have those needs met.

If your focus in on alcohol beverages, restaurants, travel, QSR, food and beverage, personal care, CPG, or another higher frequency category, then occasion-based segmentation may be the right fit for you. But occasion-based segmentation isn’t for everyone. If a category is lower frequency, like purchasing a vehicle, or when the need doesn’t vary much from one purchasing occasion to the next, like buying toilet bowl cleaner or dog food, then person-based segmentation is going to give you a much more actionable solution.

One other important thing to consider before taking the plunge into occasion-based segmentation is the transition your organization will have to make if they’ve already adopted and have been trying to make a person-based segmentation work. It’s a mind shift to move from thinking about your segments as individual people to recognizing that people exist across a variety of occasion segments, but it’s a worthwhile effort.

The clients I’ve worked with to shift to an occasion-based segmentation for their high frequency category have leveraged their new occasion segments to develop new successful product lines, create tailored marketing and messaging campaigns, and develop customer acquisition strategies to grow their market share. They also report feeling like they now truly understand their customers, which is the golden ticket many marketers are looking for. 



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