“What we’re seeing.” That line is pretty innocuous, understated even.

I’ve shared this story before but, if you enjoy this little email, you have only one person to thank – my friend Ivan Martinez at UnitedHealth Group. The whole thing was his idea 7 years ago, almost to the day, at one of our client advisory board gatherings. He even suggested the name, matter-of-factly. Naming things is the worst and he nailed it on the first try. 

In the years since, we put a little trademark symbol next to it in our materials. Earlier this month, we bought whatwereseeing dot com. It doesn’t quite read the same without the apostrophe, but for $14 a year, how could you turn it down? I don’t know what we’ll use it for. Maybe when I retire, the company will let me keep it, so I can keep writing to you.

We’ve made WWS into its own mini-brand. All our client presentations, webinars, and stage speeches are all titled something along the lines of “What We’re Seeing™: The Blah-Blah Edition.” And now we’re turning it – the concept anyway – into a full-blown product. 

Like clockwork, every Monday (if not over the weekend), we get a barrage of emails from clients asking to see some trend or breaking news we wrote about that week, filtered through the lens of their customers or some other group. “Are they leaving Twitter? How worried are they about the UAW strike? Do they think their spouses are ugly?”

Ok. Maybe not the last one, but you get the point. What’s happening among the general population is important. How it’s hitting your customers is what really matters.

Then we chase it down, telling them things like, “Starbucks customers are 2X more likely than average consumers to be using TikTok Shop. Or, “Citi customers are 30% more likely than average to be trading down to private label brands in retail this month.” 

We won’t have to chase it down anymore. We’ve built a snazzy little automated report that takes all the poll questions that comprise all these studies and indexes the results against any customer group you want, every week. Think, “The Taco Bell WWS,” or “The DoorDash WWS,” or whatever. We even provide a monthly synopsis.       

The early returns from our clients have been great – you should check it out

All credit to Ivan.

Here’s, well, what we’re seeing:

The bump in consumer confidence last time was short-lived. Our Economic Sentiment Index returned to its 4-month downward trend this week, after the briefest of respites. Outlook for the U.S. economy took the hardest hit (thanks for another shutdown shit-show, Congress), dropping 1.4 points, followed ever so closely by confidence in major purchases (down 1.3 points). Rising gas prices, an auto workers strike, and student loan payments are all weighing on Americans to varying degrees. The only bright spot was a slight improvement in optimism for the housing market, albeit from a one-year low in the last reading. 

About that government shutdown. As of Tuesday, 25% of U.S. adults said they’re very concerned about the possibility of Washington going dark. I’m old enough to remember when only 19% of Americans were concerned the last time a shutdown loomed, all the way back in… checks notes… January! The difference this time says more about the financial state of the consumer than their confidence (or lack thereof) watching the current batch of congressional monkeys clumsily screw a football. 

A lot of people say they’re planning to outright defy the return of their student loan payments. As the witching hour for student debt repayment draws nigh, one in four student loan holders say they have no plans on paying them back. Good luck with that, I guess. A more reasonable, but equally strained 23% say they’ll postpone their payments. Among those who do intend to pay them back, immediately or eventually, 30% will take advantage of one of the income-driven repayment programs, like President Biden’s SAVE Plan. This whole thing will be very interesting to watch.

In an arguably greater act of economic defiance, Americans are showing no lack of resilience when it comes to holiday travel. Sixty-one percent of typical holiday season travelers say they still plan to travel this year – financial headwinds be damned – a big jump from 53% who said the same thing this time last year. Chalk this up to the well-being theme I’ve been drumming on about all year. Granted, a majority plan to travel by car, and a plurality plan to stay with family, but the 

Perhaps it’s because our collective emotional well-being is struggling. Read this one for yourself. Our Well-Being Index fell for the third straight month. The chart below explains some of it, partly because returning student loan payments are causing heightened levels of stress, but more because having student loan payments is a proxy for being young. And young people – especially young women – are taking the brunt of it. 

Moms are returning to work without childcare. Sorry to be Debbie Downer this week. The current economic climate is forcing more moms back into the workforce and a significant percentage of them are doing so without adequate coverage for their kids. At the same time, a number of currently working moms say that if they lose access to childcare – due to the untimely end of pandemic-era emergency childcare funding this month – they’ll be forced to leave their jobs, creating even more financial hardship at home. As companies crack down on remote work and the job market tightens, something has to give. Ugh.   

More from the InsightStore™:

  • Our 3 Things to Know this week, including a big surge in holiday shoppers looking for deals, 2-to-1 public support for auto workers, and the rising popularity of prescription weight loss drugs;
  • The life of a digital nomad is highly appealing – especially to Gen Z workers;
  • Five things you wouldn’t guess about ESPN+ subscribers;
  • Cost and privacy concerns are hitting the smart home market.

The most popular questions this week:

Answer Key: The ‘90s, duh; Equally split between JD, JT, John, and Dad – also Dick, among my fraternity brothers; Not even a little; Even less; No. Letting someone know you care enough about them to do them a favor is half the point (provided you expect nothing in return).   

Hoping you’re well.


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