Katie Thomas

Lead, Kearney Consumer Institute

Katie Thomas has built her career around understanding consumers — what makes them tick, how to meet their needs, and why they are so fiercely loyal to Heinz ketchup.  As lead of the Kearney Consumer Institute (KCI), Katie is advocate for and expert on all things consumer, identifying provocative insights, authoring opinion pieces, and interfacing with Kearney clients.

Katie’s career began in management consulting at Kearney, working on projects across Fortune 500 consumer goods, retail, and media clients to build strategies, conduct market analyses, and identify operational efficiencies.  Katie shifted gears post-MBA, moving into brand management for beloved brands from Heinz to Aidells chicken sausage.  Katie’s obsession with the consumer only deepened through consumer ethnographies and new product launches. Returning to Kearney to lead the KCI, Katie challenges existing assumptions and reframes questions with a consumer-centric perspective.

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  • Posted on: 12/07/2021

    Meijer and Publix want you to believe in their new Christmas spots

    Both are sweet, but Meijer wins for me due to the simplicity and the focus on family. I find the narrative easier to follow and following the growing family just really resonates with me! While nice, I find the Publix friendly neighbor angle to be a bit overdone.
  • Posted on: 11/30/2021

    Who will win the first RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge?

    Macy's. It has much stronger recall -- I can remember seeing this ad especially given that it hearkens the Claymation Rudolph movie, whereas the lack of well, anything memorable/differentiating in the Kohl's ad doesn't spur anything for me. Also, much less concerned about people not wearing masks at the airport. While perhaps that is more sensitive, consumers have consistently stated they don't need the constant reminder of COVID -- on commercials, TV shows, etc. At this point, people have made up their mind on their stance on masks.
  • Posted on: 11/29/2021

    Lush exits social media over risks to teens

    This is also a great argument for the test and learn approach that we preach and then criticize (they left before and then came back!). Not only is it on brand for LUSH specifically, but it could force them to think creatively and be scrappy about digital spend. While online/social spend is deemed "necessary" these days, it's also incredibly hard to break through the noise (thus the entry of digital natives into brick & mortar). Perhaps there are other ways to spend those dollars....
  • Posted on: 11/23/2021

    Walmart is going livestreaming for the holidays

    I absolutely believe that social commerce is an important element of the future of retail. That said, I'd love to see some large retailers exploring new and different options, rather than just testing livestreaming. As we know, it's been quite successful in China but the American market has different complexities and nuances. In particular, we've seen a major return to stores which inherently is social commerce as well. I would love to see more experimentation in this space!
  • Posted on: 11/22/2021

    How big a win is Sephora for Kohl’s?

    The success in prestige beauty is a particularly interesting callout - it's a great reminder that most consumers cross-shop across price points. While the Sephora/Kohl's partnership was at first a bit surprising, given the slightly different profile of consumers externally, the success of higher-end brands shows the gains of simply more eyeballs on brands. Though at first blush, it seems like Sephora is better positioned for benefit than Kohl's.
  • Posted on: 11/17/2021

    Is mobile enhancing the in-store shopping experience?

    I love this prompt because it ladders up to broader questions around all of us being on our phones all the time. While I do think that often takes away from the ability to be present in the larger sense, I believe retailers could better utilize mobile to engage with consumers. For instance, if so many consumers are using it for the loyalty program, why not do a quick deal or free gift to help convert the sale? Or remind consumers of something they may need? Or sync up with Instagram in some way to provide inspiration? Tons of opportunity here!
  • Posted on: 11/15/2021

    Will paid perks pay off for Williams Sonoma?

    Testing new subscription programs for loyal customers is a smart tactic. However, as stated, when this is only $20 cheaper than Amazon Prime (with all the shipping and media benefits provided by Amazon), I don't think the price is right. I doubt even loyal consumers are that interested in cooking classes and an unproven recipes app. Could've been worthwhile to partner with established options there - such as Masterclass and NYT Cooking.
  • Posted on: 11/12/2021

    What online tools best prevent returns?

    I completely agree. Even the models on websites are still -- models, and the clothes are clearly positioned in a way to look good. Now how they will actually look on consumers' bodies? Beyond sizing, actual fit is just as important.
  • Posted on: 11/11/2021

    Do retailers get how social holiday shopping has become?

    While social media and selling continues to grow and retailers certainly need to be experimenting with livestreaming and other tactics, let's remember that consumer behavior often doesn't change overnight. Adoption of livestreaming is significantly higher in China and, while consumers may be experimenting with social selling, data shows many are still simply going to the good old-fashioned brick-and-mortar store.
  • Posted on: 11/05/2021

    Saks has planned a livestreaming holiday season

    Saks is smart to be on the leading edge of livestream selling. As a department store, they have the breadth of products for which consumers would expect to take the time to engage in this type of event, as we've seen with Alibaba/Tmall in China. Given the confusing messaging around sales this holiday season (should I buy now? Or wait for Black Friday? When are the best deals?), this also provides a clear message to consumers to join the Saks livestream events for exclusive products and deals.
  • Posted on: 11/03/2021

    Will Aldi’s ‘Charcuterie Board’ have a big influence on its food sales?

    Aldi's approach here is the right way to engage with influencers and via social - it's topical and fun, while also providing an opportunity to educate consumers who may be unsure about how to pull together a charcuterie board. It's beneficial sometimes to have a goal to simply interact with or draw in consumers, rather than specific objectives around current shoppers or ROI.
  • Posted on: 10/19/2021

    Is the privacy paradox being resolved?

    Yup. As with any optionality these days (e.g., in-store versus online) - it's an "and" not an "or." Consumers want a better understanding of how data sharing will benefit them, or they are less likely to share. And the definition of "privacy" is a complicated one...
  • Posted on: 10/12/2021

    Rather than compete, Walmart inks exclusive deal with Netflix

    This is a great partnership from a consumer perspective - these strategic partnerships simplify getting eyeballs on both brands and keep things streamlined for the consumer, rather than needing them to add one more streaming service or DTC website.
  • Posted on: 10/08/2021

    Should retailers be looking to leverage free return shipping?

    I completely agree - we need consumer-friendly ways to improve the returns process for some of the exact things you call out, like uncertain sizing within a brand and across the board.
  • Posted on: 10/08/2021

    Should retailers be looking to leverage free return shipping?

    While returns do cost retailers a lot of money, I'd argue it's also a cost of doing business. Consumers of a product should have the right to return something if it doesn't fit/suit their needs/the quality is lower than expected. I'd argue that even the above treats the symptom, not the cause. Enabling retailers to get the product back on the floor quickly/in season is great but ultimately there needs to be a larger fix to the overall returns value chain.

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