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Lessons from Stressed-Out Consumers Scorned

February 6, 2023 | Letters

Author: Nicole Olynk Widmar, Associate Head and Professor, Purdue University, Department of Agricultural Economics

Humans have ever-evolving tastes and preferences. Further, there are times we are interested in being adventurous with new things, and then there are other times when we most certainly are not. You may recall this from a previous conversation about consumers under duress

Lesson #4: If people are coming to you for products, services or solutions under duress, you have been given an implicit trust – treat that with great care. Pardon my language, but “Hell has no fury like a stressed-out consumer scorned.”

Now, in today’s environment with talks of inflationary pressures alongside rampant levels of missed work and school due to illness (after illness, after illness, so it seems for many, especially parents) there’s reason to be stressed. Especially for parents; let’s get in the right mindset here:

Parents are interesting human creatures, aren’t they? One day you’re eating food with a fork, maybe even while sitting down. The next thing you know, you’re eating quite questionable leftovers while leaning over the sink (if you’re lucky) without a fork in sight (You lost all the forks? How?). 

As consumers, infant parents are tough, and the marketing for ‘baby stuff’ is epically impactful (not that you can remember). Maybe it was good marketing, or maybe you were just scared or gave up that day and ordered what you thought your baby needed on Amazon (twice). I don’t know and it doesn’t matter, but I’ve been there and done that. And I realize you probably bought three of them. What’s ‘them’? I don’t remember, but you have three of everything in the attic now so you

Then, in the midst of all the goings-on in 2022, this whole baby-raising situation got much harder to navigate due to the formula shortage. We previously delved into the curious case of baby formula using online media data; those online and social media insights can also be found in the newly released video below:

And in addition to the media data-derived insights, we now we have additional findings to delve into from a recently released article in Preventative Medicine Reports by Maria Kalaitzandonakes, Brenna Ellison, and Jonathan Coppess, entitled “Coping with the 2022 infant formula shortage”.

An online survey was conducted in August 2022 to investigate consumer intentions and experiences with regard to formula (or the lack thereof). They found that approximately 35% of consumers attempted to purchase formula for their own household or for someone else’s, during the shortage. Consumers reported searching multiple stores/sites and in spite of warnings, some still did attempt to make their own formula. Respondents relied heavily on one another to cope during the shortage, including sending/receiving formula through the mail, searching/buying/finding for friends or relatives, and receiving it from doctors’ offices or other community groups/sources.

Taken together, the insights gleaned from online and social media data and the recently released survey data suggest that while there are public policy efforts in place for education and information, we may need to revisit communication methods (and even intentions) to ensure actionable and meaningful help is available. Warnings against making your own formula, for example, were likely received; however, without viable alternatives spotlighted individuals are left to sift through information and misinformation during times of stress — being told what not to do is not necessarily helpful if you do not know what TO DO. Interestingly, both analyses suggest reliance on community, friends and family; investments in these social safety nets are seldom spotlighted, but their importance is repeatedly highlighted and potentially deserving of additional attention in light of the public health challenges faced recently.