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Consumer Economics Are Driving Retail Industry Bifurcation

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With retail sales increasing 3.5 percent in 2017, compared to a gross domestic product growth rate of 2.3 percent the same year, the retail sector is showing signs of healthy growth thus the so-called ‘retail apocalypse’ is a myth, according to a new study from Deloitte. The study, “The great retail bifurcation: Why the retail “apocalypse” is really a renaissance,” found that the retail sector is healthy and shows strong signs of growth. Rather than a battle of online against brick-and mortar, Deloitte found that retail is changing in line with consumer income bifurcation, with both high-end and price-conscious retailers seeing revenues soar, growing 81 percent and 37 percent, respectively, while those in the middle realized a mere 2 percent increase in sales over the past five years.

“Despite the popular narrative, the ‘retail apocalypse’ is far from reality,” said Kasey Lobaugh, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP and the report’s lead author. “Brick-and-mortar retail is not on or near its deathbed. In fact, we’re seeing retailers open new stores at an astounding pace, and physical retail is growing alongside digital. Rather than witnessing the demise of retail, our study shows a dramatic change in line with the impact of consumer bifurcation along economic lines. While specific retailers may see an apocalypse, others see opportunity.”

Based on a survey of more than 2,000 consumers and an analysis of a large collection of US-based publicly traded retailers, the study examines a growing disparity between consumer income cohorts and highlights the impact of this economic bifurcation on retailers.

Consumer income bifurcation defies traditional economic metrics
While strong economic indicators paint a promising portrait on the surface, the study looked deeper and found massive gaps in consumers’ discretionary spending power. Incremental income generated since the recession has disproportionately gone to high-income households, with virtually all income growth between 2007 and 2015 going to the top 20 percent.

Deloitte found that the household economic health correlates to consumer spending behavior. Key economic findings from the study include:

  • Economic well-being: Just one-in-five surveyed consumers (20 percent) are better off in 2017 than they were in 2007 in terms of disposable income, with little to spend on discretionary retail categories. Overall, four in five consumers (80 percent) have fewer funds for traditional retail segments such as apparel. Alongside this trend, high-income consumers are 10 percent more likely to report spending more over the last year.
  • Rising costs: Faced with stagnant levels of income, lower-earning consumers have seen the costs of nondiscretionary items skyrocket: health care expenditures have risen 62 percent, education 41 percent, food 17 percent and housing 12 percent, according to Deloitte’s analysis of reports from Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • New expenses: Modern consumer essentials like mobile phones and data plans now take up an increased portion of discretionary spending, stealing share from traditional retail categories. Low-income consumers feel the brunt of the impact, spending 3.6 percent of their income on digital devices and data, compared to just 0.71 percent for high earners.

“Households have diverged along economic lines and now people’s respective income levels are steering their behaviors and dictating the success of retail segments,” said Robert Stephens, senior manager, Deloitte Consulting LLP and co-author of the study. “More affluent shoppers have fueled high-end retail as their income and net worth have grown, while lower-earning consumers, faced with growing expenses and dramatically less disposable income, have turned toward price-conscious stores. Retailers that try to court all consumers will likely be challenged as income bifurcation leaves different shoppers with differing motivations.”

Retail isn’t dying, and premier and low-price are thriving
In line with consumer bifurcation by income level, Deloitte found the retail market is also bifurcating along economically-driven divides. Through an analysis of publicly traded retailers, Deloitte defined three retail cohorts: premier retailers that deliver value via premier product and experience offerings; price-based retailers that deliver value by selling at the lowest possible prices and clearly communicating that proposition to customers and balanced retailers that deliver value via a balance of price and/or promotion.

Examined side by side, these three groups offer differing narratives that align with income-driven changes in consumer behavior:

  • More stores are opening than closing: From 2015 to 2017, price-based retailers gained 2.5 stores for every store balanced retailers closed.
  • Revenues have grown: Premier retailers have seen 40x more revenue growth than that of balanced retailers over the last five years, with revenues soaring 81 percent versus a mere 2 percent increase for balanced retailers. Price-based retailers, meanwhile, have seen their revenues steadily increase 37 percent over the same period.
  • Sales climb overall: Premium (8 percent) and price-based (7 percent) retailers’ sales rose in the past year, while sales of balanced retailers declined by 2 percent.

Income bifurcation Impacts consumers’ category, channel and spend decisions
Income bifurcation has triggered differences in consumer shopping behavior between economic groups. Beyond their actual spending levels, these two groups also differ in how and where they make purchases:

  • Preferred formats: Low-income consumers are 44 percent more likely to shop at discount retailers than other groups. These consumers are also more likely than others to shop at supermarkets, convenience stores and department stores.
  • Channel choices: The majority (58 percent) of low-income consumers are choosing to shop in store, while 52 percent of high-income consumers prefer to shop online. High-income consumers were also 42 percent more likely to report an increased propensity to shop online over the prior three months.
  • Shopping around: In-store spending fragmentation – or the number of retailers a consumer regularly shops – is 17 percent higher amongst high-income consumers. Fragmentation is even more exaggerated online, as affluent consumers are 40 percent more fragmented for online retailers than consumers in the lowest income cohort.

The millennial money myth
While millennials are often lumped together and portrayed as the source of disruption, Deloitte found that for the most part, millennial behavior (by income group) is virtually indistinguishable from other generations. Low-income millennials track closely with all other generations when it comes to whether they have spent in stores recently (79 percent and 81 percent, respectively), and in the middle-income cohort, there’s no difference between millennials and other generations, with 81 percent of each group having made purchases in-store.

However, high-income millennials, who make up less than one-fifth (19 percent) of the total millennial generation and just 6 percent of the population overall, skew perceptions of Gen Y as a whole. High-income millennials are 24 percent less likely than all non-millennial shoppers to shop in a store, and may be the source of the idea that millennials are the end of brick-and-mortar retail. When averaged together, the high-income shopper’s behaviors skew the averages for the entire millennial group.

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Post-COVID-19, regaining citizen’s trust should be a priority for governments

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coronavirus people

The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated governments’ ability to respond to a major global crisis with extraordinary flexibility, innovation and determination. However, emerging evidence suggests that much more could have been done in advance to bolster resilience and many actions may have undermined trust and transparency between governments and their citizens, according to a new OECD report.

Government at a Glance 2021 says that one of the biggest lessons of the pandemic is that governments will need to respond to future crises at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency. “Looking forward, we must focus simultaneously on promoting the economic recovery and avoiding democratic decline” said OECD Director of Public Governance Elsa Pilichowski. “Reinforcing democracy should be one of our highest priorities.”

 Countries have introduced thousands of emergency regulations, often on a fast track. Some alleviation of standards is inevitable in an emergency, but must be limited in scope and time to avoid damaging citizen perceptions of the competence, openness, transparency, and fairness of government.

 Governments should step up their efforts in three areas to boost trust and transparency and reinforce democracy:

 Tackling misinformation is key. Even with a boost in trust in government sparked by the pandemic in 2020, on average only 51% of people in OECD countries for which data is available trusted their government. There is a risk that some people and groups may be dissociating themselves from traditional democratic processes.

 It is crucial to enhance representation and participation in a fair and transparent manner. Governments must seek to promote inclusion and diversity, support the representation of young people, women and other under-represented groups in public life and policy consultation. Fine-tuning consultation and engagement practices could improve transparency and trust in public institutions, says the report. Governments must also level the playing field in lobbying. Less than half of countries have transparency requirements covering most of the actors that regularly engage in lobbying.

 Strengthening governance must be prioritised to tackle global challenges while harnessing the potential of new technologies. In 2018, only half of OECD countries had a specific government institution tasked with identifying novel, unforeseen or complex crises. To be fit for the future, and secure the foundations of democracy, governments must be ready to act at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency.

 Governments must also learn to spend better, according to Government at a Glance 2021. OECD countries are providing large amounts of support to citizens and businesses during this crisis: measures ongoing or announced as of March 2021 represented, roughly, 16.4% of GDP in additional spending or foregone revenues, and up to 10.5% of GDP via other means. Governments will need to review public spending to increase efficiency, ensure that spending priorities match people’s needs, and improve the quality of public services.

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Sweden: Invest in skills and the digital economy to bolster the recovery from COVID-19

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Sweden’s economy is on the road to recovery from the shock of the COVID-19 crisis, yet risks remain. Moving ahead with a labour reform to facilitate adaptation in a fast-changing economic environment, and investing in digital skills and infrastructure, will be crucial to revive employment and build a sustainable recovery, according to the latest OECD Economic Survey of Sweden.

The pandemic triggered a severe recession in Sweden, despite mild distancing measures and swift government action to protect people and businesses. GDP fell by less than in many other European economies in 2020, thanks to reinforced short-time work, compensation to firms for lost revenue and measures to prop up the financial system, but unemployment still rose sharply. Solid public finances provided room for further stimulus in 2021 to buttress the recovery.

 The Survey recommends maintaining targeted support to people and firms until the pandemic subsides, then focusing on strengthening vocational training and skills and increasing investment in areas like high-speed internet and low-carbon transport. Addressing regional inequality, which is low but rising, should also be a priority as the recovery takes hold.

 The Survey shows that Sweden has been among the most resilient OECD countries in the face of a historic shock. Yet, like other economies, it faces challenges from demographic changes and the shift to green, digital economies. Investments in education and training, and labour reforms along the lines negotiated by the social partners, will support job creation and strengthen economic resilience. Building on Sweden’s leadership in digital innovation and diffusion will also be key for driving productivity.

 After a 3% contraction in 2020, interrupting several years of growth, the Survey projects a rebound in activity with 3.9% growth in 2021 and 3.4% in 2022 as industrial production resumes and exports recover. The recovery in world trade is bolstering the Swedish economy, however the country remains vulnerable to potential disruptions in global value chains.  

The pandemic has aggravated a mismatch in Sweden’s job market, with unfilled vacancies for highly qualified workers coinciding with high unemployment for low-skilled workers and immigrants. The public employment service needs strengthening to provide better support to jobseekers, including immigrants and women, and labour policies should strike the right balance between supporting businesses and workers and supporting transitions away from declining businesses towards growing sectors.

A rising share of youths and older people in the population, especially in remote areas, is affecting the finances of local governments, which provide the bulk of welfare services. Strengthening local government budgets and ensuring equal welfare provision across the country will require providing tax income to poorer regions more efficiently and raising the economic growth potential across regions through investments in innovation. Improving coordination between government entities and reinforcing the role of universities in local economic networks would help achieve that aim.

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Fewer women than men will regain work during COVID-19 recovery

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Generations of progress stands to be lost on women and girls' empowerment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: ILO

Fewer women will regain jobs lost to the COVID-19 pandemic during the recovery period, than men, according to a new study released on Monday by the UN’s labour agency.  

In Building Forward Fairer: Women’s rights to work and at work at the core of the COVID-19 recovery, the International Labour Organization (ILO) highlights that between 2019 and 2020, women’s employment declined by 4.2 per cent globally, representing 54 million jobs, while men suffered a three per cent decline, or 60 million jobs. 

This means that there will be 13 million fewer women in employment this year compared to 2019, but the number of men in work will likely recover to levels seen two years ago. 

This means that only 43 per cent of the world’s working-age women will be employed in 2021, compared to 69 per cent of their male counterparts. 

The ILO paper suggests that women have seen disproportionate job and income losses because they are over-represented in the sectors hit hardest by lockdowns, such as accommodation, food services and manufacturing. 

Regional differences 

Not all regions have been affected in the same way. For example, the study revealed that women’s employment was hit hardest in the Americas, falling by more than nine per cent.  

This was followed by the Arab States at just over four per cent, then Asia-Pacific at 3.8 per cent, Europe at 2.5 per cent and Central Asia at 1.9 per cent. 

In Africa, men’s employment dropped by just 0.1 per cent between 2019 and 2020, while women’s employment decreased by 1.9 per cent. 

Mitigation efforts 

Throughout the pandemic, women faired considerably better in countries that took measures to prevent them from losing their jobs and allowed them to get back into the workforce as early as possible. 

In Chile and Colombia, for example, wage subsidies were applied to new hires, with higher subsidy rates for women.  

And Colombia and Senegal were among those nations which created or strengthened support for women entrepreneurs.  

Meanwhile, in Mexico and Kenya quotas were established to guarantee that women benefited from public employment programmes. 

Building forward 

To address these imbalances, gender-responsive strategies must be at the core of recovery efforts, says the agency. 

It is essential to invest in the care economy because the health, social work and education sectors are important job generators, especially for women, according to ILO. 

Moreover, care leave policies and flexible working arrangements can also encourage a more even division of work at home between women and men. 

The current gender gap can also be tackled by working towards universal access to comprehensive, adequate and sustainable social protection. 

Promoting equal pay for work of equal value is also a potentially decisive and important step. 

Domestic violence and work-related gender-based violence and harassment has worsened during the pandemic – further undermining women’s ability to be in the workforce – and the report highlights the need to eliminate the scourge immediately. 

Promoting women’s participation in decision-making bodies, and more effective social dialogue, would also make a major difference, said ILO. 

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