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The CQ: The Decline of Mass Appeal, Free Returns, and Prime-Age Workers
What We're Reading and Talking About on Slack This Week
The CQ is Forerunner’s weekly newsletter rounding up the most pressing consumer news and analysis, plus some bonus musing from our investment team. Subscribe now to get the latest edition in your inbox every Saturday.
Our 10 Ten Must-Reads of the Week:
“Is mass appeal even possible anymore?” Gen Z is known for its individualism and readiness to embrace what’s historically existed outside the mainstream — from diverse representation to gender fluidity, same-sex relationships, and more. But as Gen Z grows older and becomes the dominant generation in culture and commerce, mass brands with wide distribution and a broad audience will struggle to remain “mass” if they also trying to appeal to Gen Z (see: the recent Budweiser backlash after its creator partnership with Dylan Mulvaney). TL;DR — as consumer values become increasingly wide-ranging and social and cultural issues become increasingly polarizing — mass brand appeal seems to no longer be viable.
A creator labor movement is underway. Several influencers and the teams who work with them are banding together in an effort to pressure tech companies for higher payouts, health insurance, retirement accounts, as well as other issues. This is happening during an unstable time for the creator economy: “Funding for startups has slowed and influential apps, including Meta Platforms’ Facebook, have cut creator-focused features such as newsletter publishing. At the same time, apps such as Snapchat and Twitter have introduced new products to attract creators and their fans.”
RIP free returns. The Atlantic looks at how slowly, but then suddenly, retailers have curbed one of the very features that made online shopping so attractive. Consumers are now being encouraged to return for store credit (even with a 10% credit bonus), return to a store, or mail back goods with a sneaky $7.50 fee deducted from the refund. It’s not just small brands — REI, Kohls, Neiman Marcus and even Amazon have adjusted policies to include various kinds of charges. While gracious return policies lured people to online shopping, their success is now a double-edged sword for retailers: “a giant boondoggle, logistically and financially.”
A new survey of nearly 1,000 class-of-2023 students asked what companies they’d like to work for most — and Big Tech didn’t even crack the top 10. Raytheon, Nike, Toyota, Lockheed Martin, and Chevron round out the top five. “[Gen Z is] gravitating toward companies that characterize a level of stability they’ve been looking for, in addition to offering solid benefits and potential upward career growth.” Related: BBC reports that Gen Z is changing what a “prestige job” is. Instead of a high-profile industry, they are “emphasizing other elements, such as corporate values, flexibility, autonomy and freedom from the long-hours, high-octane grind.”
In Norway, 80% of new cars sold are electric (vs. only 5% in the U.S.). The country has experienced a lot of changes since the transition: there’s less pollution (Oslo’s greenhouse gas emissions have dropped 30% since 2009) and the city is quieter. Their power grid has held up and upskilling workers (mechanics, Circle K employees) has become a priority, but there’s still a need for increasing reliable charging infrastructure.
Due to a large generation of older workers retiring (boomers), declining fertility rates leading to smaller trailing generations, and increased overall life expectancy — a new report predicts a sharp drop in “prime-age” workers (those ages 25 - 53) over the next decades across all G20 countries, with Korea, Germany and the U.S. projected to be impacted most. Some fields that might be particularly affected: lower-wage health care jobs (in greater demand as larger, older demographics age, but with an already-lower supply) and jobs requiring significant contextual knowledge and expertise via longer tenures.
Hispanics living with disabilities recently hit record levels of employment: over 35% were employed between April 2022 and March 2023, up from 27% in the height of the pandemic. According to researchers, more opportunities for remote work and flexible hours have contributed to the rise. Still, in comparison to those without disabilities, people with disabilities are less likely to earn a living wage, make 66 cents on the dollar, and are more likely to be unemployed.
Chronic illnesses seem to be surging, as millions of Americans report suffering from mysterious chronic pain. Several studies have shown that women, lower-income people, and those with less education are much more likely to report severe pain. Researchers think there may be a mind-body connection linking chronic pain to troubled childhoods, loneliness, job insecurity and other pressures on working families. “Maybe the brain’s pain alarm system is trying to tell us about how America heals: To ease our chronic pain, we must do better at addressing deeper wounds in our economy and society.”
“Hustle” isn’t necessarily the first word people think of when it comes to Gen Z, but according to a 2022 survey commissioned by Microsoft, 48% are juggling multiple side hustles at once. Concerned about finances and a precarious job market while wanting to fulfill their personal passions, they feel let down by the typical 9-to-5. "It's lost that credibility of 'If you do that, you're going to work your way up and be able to buy a nice car, nice house, and retire.'" Young people are drop-shipping, Amazon reselling, and coming up with their own content-creation jobs.
The American Psychological Association issued an advisory on guiding teens’ social media use, recommending parents train their kids in social media literacy before they get on the platforms. Some psychologists feel the plan isn’t realistic as it lacks actionable advice and puts too much burden on parents and very little on tech companies or policy makers. "This isn't like teaching your kid to drive a car. This is completely new information for many parents and their kids. I would say this is not a level playing field. Your kids are actually much more advanced in this than you are." Related: location-sharing services are stressing kids out — they get fomo, feel excluded from groups, and even get nervous about their safety.
Work at a Portfolio Company:
Lead Product Manager | Pavilion: Pavilion builds technology that empowers public servants to deliver better, faster public services from a wider and more diverse group of businesses, reshaping the $2 trillion public procurement industry that exists mostly offline today. The role will work on a wide range of projects helping both sides of the marketplace, government buyers and suppliers/vendors, helping improve the discovery and search experience for buyers and build suppliers/vendor facing features.
Director of Owned Channels Merchandise Planning & Allocation | Glossier: Glossier is a people-first beauty company on a mission to give everyone a voice through beauty. This is a newly created role at Glossier that will focus on building out a high performing merchandise planning and allocation function, responsible for helping drive sales and profitability through inventory discipline across E-Commerce and Retail channels in a thoughtful and strategic manner.
Product Manager - Experts & Artificial Intelligence | Curated: Curated is a new approach to shopping for high-stakes purchases where customers are connected with Real Experts who can give excellent guidance and answer needs faster. This role will own the strategy, roadmap, and execution of new product features to make Experts more productive and successful, with a special focus on AI.
There are ~512 other openings on our jobs site. Check ‘em out.