Insider Interview – Cathy Hotka & Georgina Nelson

Ahead of NRF, Georgina catches up with Retail Insider extraordinaire Cathy Hotka.
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Ahead of NRF, Georgina catches up with Retail Insider extraordinaire Cathy Hotka.

Cathy Hotka is everyone’s favourite retail insider – as the lead at Cathy Hotka and Associates, Cathy is renowned for working tirelessly to bring members of the retail community together with a spirit of generosity unmatched.

Recently, she invited TruRating CEO Georgina Nelson to give an interview ahead of the retail event of the year NRF – it’s been a couple of years since an in-person show, so there was plenty to catch up about.

Enjoy the conversation below and if you’re interested in attending Cathy’s Inside Retailer Party at NRF itself (the place to be trust us) you can secure your invitation by pinging cathy@cathyhotka.com.

The place to be at NRF 2022!

Oh and while we have you, why not say hello to the TruRating team at Booth #465 – we’ll be out in force, with a booth getup you won’t want to miss, to say the least. Book your slot today.

Without further adieu, Cathy & George:

I’d like to introduce to my audience Georgina Nelson, CEO of an NRF favourite, TruRating. George – I love a good Founder’s story. Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what led you to start TruRating?

Thanks, Cathy, for having me. I am delighted to be here with you! My journey to TruRating started years before I founded the company. My first university degree is in Psychology as I’ve always been fascinated with the nuances that motivate human behaviour. Fast forward a few years, and I was now a lawyer at an organization called Which?, the largest consumer rights association in Europe. Then two things happened quite simultaneously. First, while at Which? I began working on early drafts of GDPR, witnessing how consumers were on the losing side of transparency, particularly as it pertained to the power of fake online reviews. 

Then a second but far more personal thing occurred. My father, then working at the Bookseller’s Association in the UK, became increasingly frustrated as online behemoths began cutting away at his industry. He knew that the Association’s competitive advantage was service, but the booksellers lacked data! Not just data but easily understood and easy to distribute store-level data that someone could turn into insights. Of course, the TruRating solution wasn’t fully baked in my mind just yet, but his sense of frustration quickly became mine – it was the spark that I needed. 

Then one day, it just hit me. Suppose you could ask a simple question of every consumer who shopped, ‘in the moment,’ using technology that they were already conditioned to respond to, which is checking out at the till. If that question were quick and easy to answer, more people would answer it than not. And, maybe, just maybe, you could then begin to extract the level of representative data needed to understand your customer base. My idea was that by making it simple to feedback, simple to understand, and simple to action – you’re suddenly onto something powerful. 

Once I started to sketch things out, the concept evolved quickly. I was so convinced that this idea could become a reality, and to some degree, change the world of data and insights that I quit my job, and I haven’t looked back since. 

That is incredible. Now, I was looking on your website, and I saw that you had collected over 286 million ratings – Congratulations! What does that even mean?

Thank you, Cathy! We are approaching a huge milestone – 300 million ratings! Each rating represents an actual, validated consumer rating from one of our merchants globally. The number of ratings we’ve collected is just the tip of the iceberg. Each rating is coupled with over 50+ data points, making the depth of insights that we gather for our partners incredibly rich. With a new product scheduled to launch at NRF, we can now get even more granular insights that truly open new worlds for our partners and us. 

With all that data, what has been the most surprising trend you’ve seen? 

I’m not sure if you’d call it surprising, but one element that continues to stand out in our research, particularly since Covid hit, is the value we place on real human interaction. When consumers choose to walk into a store, they have new expectations. Yes, they want quick and easy checkout, although they may not expect it anymore. They want to find their favourite brands, although they might expect them to be out of stock. We’ve all read the headlines and seen this firsthand; it’s incredibly difficult for retailers right now. But the thing we haven’t spoken about as an industry is how a consumer just wants to feel welcomed when they walk into a store. Perhaps now more than ever, that desire to have a pleasant interaction is vital when everything else has become increasingly difficult. Consumers have infinite choices. When they can buy the same item across the street and maybe for a dollar less, they vote with something more than their wallet. 

We recently published a report on Consumer Loyalty based on the responses of 180,000 consumers across the country and collected the responses this past summer and fall. Regardless of the question, every data point we collected supported that building genuine, authentic connections with your consumer is key to long-term success. Again, not surprising. We’re emotional creatures, and Covid challenged us. Our lives were turned upside-down very suddenly, and our ability to connect with others was significantly interrupted. Today, the connection is still in flux, and there’s a sense of uncertainty. Human-centred interactions matter, but the emphasis a consumer places on these interactions has changed, and maybe that’s a great thing.

You’re right – it’s not surprising at all, yet it’s easy to rattle off retailers that consistently deliver a positive experience versus those that don’t. 

Exactly! Just think about the stores that you love to shop at. They may have your favourite brands or have the right look and feel, but I’d bet that experience ranks somewhere high on your list of reasons why.

What challenges have you met when educating potential customers about the benefits of TruRating? 

Sometimes customers aren’t aware of the gaps in their current programs. Representation matters. Accuracy matters. Speed matters. Being able to action matters. You may have one of these things, but likely not all. The most significant gap in the data and insights industry is access to a consistent, reliable source of up-to-date data. Many companies do incredible things with data, but they simply have not found an affordable and reliable way to get representative data. That’s where we step in. Just imagine hearing from 80% of your customers versus the industry norm of less than 1%, and in an easy-to-understand format! When you rely on such narrow feedback, you essentially depend on either the happiest, most motivated consumer or the angriest and most motivated consumer making it extremely difficult to figure out what most of your customers feel and want.

I simply don’t think companies are aware that there’s a different way to do things and that existing solutions can be stacked together to create the most significant value. 

You’re just about to launch an innovation, ‘Intelligent Questions’ – can you tell us a little about what that is and why it’s so exciting? 

To date, we’ve been able to provide our retailers with incredibly granular feedback based on a set of pre-determined and selected questions. Intelligent Questions is an innovation that allows us to trigger specific questions based on items in the basket or, say, the size of the basket. Why is this so exciting? Well, it’s the next level of granularity. This new product digs deep into the psychology of what makes consumers purchase specific products at any given moment—the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ – or what we call the holy grail of insights. Traditionally we’ve served Operations and CX teams, but with Intelligent Questions, it now opens the field to Marketing, Ecommerce, Insights, Product Development, you name it! It’s incredibly gratifying to provide a solution that benefits nearly every department of an organization, bringing home the consumer’s voice in such an intimate way.

Can you tell me the type of customer who benefits from TruRating’s solution?

The short answer is every retailer! But really, any business who’s looking to truly walk the walk when it comes to ‘customer-centricity’ finds value in TruRating. We work with grocers, discount retailers, major fashion brands. The common thread is an innovative mindset. Businesses that want to put the data to work are the businesses that are best suited to be our partners. 

When looking ahead at 2022, what are you most excited about? 

I am excited about the incredible growth stage that TruRating is entering. We’ve weathered the most challenging two years and used this time to dial in the things that add the most value for our customers. While retail doors were closed, we raced to refine our offering and focus on those innovations that were further out on the roadmap. Looking back, that time to focus is precisely what the business needed. Stepping into 2022, we are ready to scale at a rapid pace. Despite the innovations that TeamTru has brought forth, every TruRating solution needs to be simple at its core. Simple to use, understand, and act against. And while simple, it also needs to be authentic, insightful, and representative. The team has continued to deliver on that promise with every upgrade and introduction. 

Cathy, I am a values and purpose-led individual, and on a very personal level, I need to wholeheartedly believe in what I am doing every day. I am infinitely proud to lead this fantastic group of people. Together we are building something that can change the face of retail. There is nothing quite like that feeling, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. 


Once again a huge thank you to Cathy and if you haven’t already, book your slot to say hi to Team Tru at NRF.

Have you read the latest TruRating insight report? Find out what forces are shaping the face of customer loyalty today:

Mapping Loyalty in Uncertain Times

Read More

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