How might we inform communities to create conscious consumers? Part 1

HMW Question Diagram.jpg

This semester we have been given the challenge to research a specific “How might we…” question through various human-centered design methods. Using data and insights, we must develop a strategic design proposal. We began the process by brainstorming HMW questions that were specific to issues facing individuals in the Northwest Arkansas region. The original question that we chose to research was, “How might we increase awareness of the impact big corporations have on our individual communities?” Being eager and excited to start, we began looking at secondary research and quickly realizes that our question was way too broad. We narrowed our question down to “How might we inform communities to create conscious consumers?” In order to frame our design challenge we took a stab at framing it as a design question. This led us to the question of “How can we design information in a captivating way?” We then went on to state the ultimate impact that we were intending to have in the grand scheme of things. As a group, we decided that our impact would be to create a community of people who are informed and making ethical decisions. But this led us to another challenge in framing our HMW question. We discovered it essential to define the broad terms coming up in our question. For example; what decision-making were we interested in focusing on? What defines an “ethical” decision? Who are “conscious consumers” to us? Does this term mean different things for different people? We brainstormed some possible solutions to our problem and landed on social media, print, video/YouTube content, etc. Finally, we recorded some of the context and constraint issues we were facing as a group. This ranged from reaching a wide audience and accessibility to communicating transparency through data and findings. We narrowed our question to “How might we inform NWA to create a culture of conscious consumerism?” But realized this too was broad. Therefore, we landed on a finalized HMW question…


 “How might we inform Generation X consumers in Northwest Arkansas to make socially and  environmentally conscious grocery purchasing decisions?”


We dove into research methods and conducted analysis of information pertaining to the issue we were addressing. The methods we decided to look at and implemented into our secondary research was a stakeholder map, case studies, and scenarios. The stakeholder map looked at the individuals that were involved in our particular research pool. This started with Gen X consumers like parents, home-makers, and loyal customers in our area and expanded out to Corporate entities like upper management, IT, and finance and legal departments. This second tier also included employees; managers, cashiers, and specialists, as well as, suppliers this including vendors and warehouse suppliers. In the most broad arena of stakeholders houses the government and community as a whole. After getting this clarity about the groups of people involved in our questions focus we each conducted case studies on various topics and groups of people. 


I was interested in understanding the employee retention rate specifically at Walmart and what led people to stay there for extended periods of time. My research concluded a definite connection between this rate and Walmart’s competitive compensation tactics. In January of this year, Walmart increased their minimum wage from $9 an hour to $11 an hour. This change was implemented and enforced not only for Walmart U.S. but Sam’s Club, Supply Chain, eCommerce, and Home Office’s hourly associates. This change in their systems of operation helps to improve their image in the eyes of the average U.S. consumer, as well as, match the pay rate of competitor Target Corp. They also updated their maternity and parental leave policy. Their initial plan was 8 weeks of maternity leave at half-pay, with no parental leave benefits for fathers and/or partners. This was updated to provide full-time hourly U.S. workers with 10 weeks of paid maternity leave; fathers and partners receive 6 weeks of paid parental leave. This specific policy change affects over 1 million hourly workers. There were also positive policy changes made to their adoption benefits for full-time hourly and salaried workers. Although all of these tactics are for the betterment and quality of life for their employees, I did discover that Walmart plans to lay off thousands of workers this year due to the closing of 62 Sam’s Club locations. This decision leaves a large group of people unemployed in our country. “These human resource management considerations are of critical importance in ensuring that Walmart’s employees are always sufficient in supporting the company’s continued global growth.” 


In order to reach our target audience in the most effective way, I looked at common marketing tactics for Gen X consumers. Gen X is commonly referred to as “the middle child” because they are sandwiched right between two highly analyzed generations: the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. This lack of attention from marketing and business campaigns is surprising when considering the findings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s study, that Gen X produces 31% of total U.S. income despite representing only 25% of the population. In addition, researchers have also found that over half of Gen X is financially supporting both a parent and child at the same time. Combined with the fact that Gen X is positioned to hold the most leadership positions in business and politics, it’s safe to say that they have a huge influence over a large chunk of the population. This means their spending habits have a greater social and environmental impact than any other generation. When targeting Gen X consumers, marketing specialists suggest highlighting practicality and loyalty programs, and using a variety of media outlets such as email, facebook, and printed ads.


I was focused on the relationship between Gen X and Millennials, because while our focus isn’t on Millennials, as researchers we are and need to understand that gap. Intergenerational sustainability isn’t abstract, and actually as one of my sources stated, by 2030 the workforce will be solely dominated by Gen Xers and Millennials. Establishing a conversation between the two generations will be crucial to the outcome of our planet. These two generations are also the one that will be pushing the market, and if sustainable products are what’s being demanded, retailers will have to supply. The relationship between the two generations won’t be productive, however, if the approach Millennials have towards each other is used towards Gen Xers. From my research, it was evident that to reach Gen Xers we need to show them how to use what they already have and know instead of asking them to change. The generation that lived through Watergate, JFK’s assasination, Vietnam, The Challenger, and many other historical events, wants the world (specifically Millennials) to ask them to bring their experiences to the conversation, instead of feeling like they have to change. 


Something that I was curious to know was how big companies, such as Walmart go about marketing directly to Gen X. In Walmart’s newest campaign, and first marketing campaign for their pick up service. Walmart has long been known for its amazing TV commercials. TV is still a major focus with this campaign, but one of the things they did differently was to create a whole host of additional “famous cars” content to ensure we’re reaching busy time-starved families. These “famous cars” are mostly from movies that are classic staples of growing up in the Gen X era. Some of these cars include the Batmobile, the DeLorean from "Back to the Future," and Scooby Doo's Mystery Machine. Gen X is the main population group that is shopping at walmart and that is why they chose these famous cars to draw attention to them to use this new service. 


We also did 4 scenarios to better understand the thought process of specific people when they go grocery shopping. We chose 4 Gen Xers to make a (fake) profile for, and included the people they interact with, the technology they use, and their experience at the store to fully understand the thought process when buying certain products. We found that often people want what they understand and what will fit into their budget/busy day. Technology can assist via google search (which is what many people will use) if they’re trying to find what can be sustainable. Otherwise, people will likely go to employees and ask for recommendations or simply buy what they already know. After better understanding this, we found that our job could come in via accessible technology that makes sustainable shopping clear and easy. We also understand that to work with Gen X, we need to work with THEIR day, not our perception of how technology works.