As MasterCard Advisors' SVP and Group Head of Market Insights, Sarah Quinlan's role is to analyze spending patterns made over the MasterCard network so the company can create solutions that help its clients make better business decisions.

An expert in her field, Quinlan's group's research and analysis result in a better understanding of how consumers shop, how those patterns ebb and flow and what businesses can be doing to stand out and grow revenues. MasterCard processes 160m transactions each hour of the day, around the world. Using hundreds of secret algorithms, these transactions reveal up-to-the-minute retail trends.

Reviewing the past 18 months' consumer spending, Quinlan demonstrated the negative impact of things like rising gas prices on disposable income, fears around the fiscal cliff in December 2012, the tightening of belts after payroll tax increases in February 2013, and so forth.

Why does this matter? 70% of GDP in the U.S. is based on consumer spending. Quinlan revealed many insights and drove home how interconnected various data points are:

When macro factors like the weather have an impact on how and where consumers can purchase, it's crucial that brands have a presence everywhere: online, brick and mortar, etc. The popularity of pop-up stores supports this.

U.S. hardware sales and sales of furniture and furnishings are impacted by trends in the housing market.

We are moving into a renters' society – millennials have no aspiration to buy a house as they've seen people get stuck and unable to take a job opportunity because they can't sell their home. 27% of Americans are still underwater with their mortgage.

People are now spending experientially and aspirationally – they pick one or two brands they love and stick with them. This makes building loyalty and community vital.

The consumer has a "flat wallet" which means businesses have to work hard to steal their share of that wallet from other businesses to increase sales.

Auto sales have been a bright spot with 15.6 million autos sold in 2013 with a large percentage made in the U.S.; Automotive parts and accessories' sales are negatively correlated to new car sales – consumers don't buy as many car parts if they have new cars.

Consumers spend 70% of their total holiday budget at the first two stores they visit on Black Friday, which is why we saw so many stores rushing to open on Thanksgiving Day last year.

The #1 spending category in October was jewelry at a $500-$2,000 price-point. This is a new trend where consumers are investing in themselves if they are not buying houses or cars

Quinlan believes that billions of dollars spent on advertising is wasted and urged the audience to minimize economic guesswork in order to maximize returns.