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7 Trends Impacting the Retail and Consumer Products Industries Amid a Global Pandemic and Beyond

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As of April 2020, eCommerce year-over-year growth was up 68%, surpassing 40% of total retail sales.

Convenience continues to reign supreme as more than half of consumers reported their willingness to spend more to get what they need.

In 2019, 40% of consumers were willing to pay the same or more for private labels; COVID-19 has further accelerated private brand sales.

Consumers have increased spending on hygiene, sustainable products and organic sales in recent months, with income disparity likely to continue to play a key role in the growth of these categories.

Why this matters
Over the last 20 years, attempting to predict the future of retail and consumer products has become a rite of passage for many industry analysts, experts and pundits. Unfortunately, COVID-19, and its far-reaching impact on the industry, has created an unprecedented disruption that hinders the ability to accurately predict what may come next. Deloitte’s report, “The future is coming … but still one day at a time,” examines a different way to think about the future path of these industries. Through analyzing years’ worth of data, the report identifies a framework of four disruptive forces—consumer preferences, technology advancement, economic pressures and market forces—that have given rise to seven trends likely to shape the future of the retail and consumer products industries.

These trends were built based on analysis done by Deloitte’s InSightsIQ, which actively monitors and aggregates a diverse set of real-time consumer, macro, marketplace, competitive and economic data sets to better predict how and when brands can win in the marketplace.

Convenience is the new battleground
Prior to COVID-19, consumers made it clear that convenience matters and the new normal has further accelerated this trend. According to the report, more than 50% of consumers report spending more on convenience to get what they need, with “convenience” increasingly being defined by contactless shopping, on-demand fulfillment and inventory availability. As such, there has been a surge in mobile payment usage, delivery app downloads and buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) adoption. For many, this acceleration is driven by scarcity of other options, while others have opted for these models because they perceive them to be safer and healthier.

Commoditization and premiumization of products
According to the study, as of April 4, consumer spend across all retail categories has decreased by more than 40%, placing significant strain on short-term operating margins. This trend has increased private brand sales in recent months, with price and supply chain constraints playing a key role in this growth, as well as consumers trading brand preference for brand availability amid stockouts. It remains unclear, however, if consumers will emerge with new preferences or lower brand loyalty than observed prior to COVID-19. Either way, income bifurcation will likely continue to play a critical role in the choices consumers make.

Digital sales grow, but achieving success remains complex
COVID-19 has accelerated digital channel growth in recent months. By mid-April, online orders grew 130% year over year, with meaningful gains in categories where digital commerce penetration had been historically low, such as grocery. Plus, with consumer mobility significantly decreased, desktop share of digital traffic has seen a significant uptick as consumers swap their phones for computers while at home. However, it is still difficult to determine exactly how these trends will manifest in the long term as stay-at-home orders are lifted and stores re-open.

Moreover, the spike in digital orders has had significant fulfillment implications for retailers, with order picking and last-mile delivery adding to the cost and complexity of the exercise. While consumers have demonstrated a willingness to pay for on-demand fulfillment in the short term, it remains to be seen if they will continue to offset the cost of delivery in the future. Overall, while digital growth remains strong, the ability to profitably pursue that growth remains under tremendous—and growing—pressure.

Brick and mortar changing its role
As of 2019, stores still accounted for a staggering 85% of retail sales. Not only that, in certain categories, the numbers of physical stores have even grown in recent years. In fact, COVID-19 further demonstrated the importance of the physical store, with many brands and retailers experiencing significant revenue loss from the temporary closure of stores.

The dramatic shift to e-commerce has also hastened the redefined role of the physical store, and many retailers have reimagined their stores to serve as order fulfilment centers to meet digital demand and drive last-mile execution. But, it is not yet clear whether this acceleration will be sustained by consumers maintaining digital shopping behaviors or the sector will see a normalization to pre-COVID trends as restrictions are lifted and stores reopen.

New business models have a growing impact
COVID-19 also has led to the adoption of nontraditional models in “essential” categories such as food, grocery and pharmacy, while at the same time decelerating short-term growth of new models in “non-essential” categories. Among these non-essential categories is apparel, where, according to the report, consumer spend has seen a decline of more than 70% versus last year.

Past trends also reveal that economic uncertainty often results in changing consumption habits and the emergence of new models. Retailers and consumer products companies continue to expand outside of their traditional revenue models to fast-track growth and meet changing consumer preferences. However, depending on the impact from the pandemic, it is likely that proliferation of new models will continue, but it remains unclear which models will sustain impact in the long run.

Health and sustainability growing priorities (for some)
COVID-19 also has substantially altered consumer spending habits for healthy and sustainable products. Consumers have dramatically increased spending on hygiene (e.g., hand sanitizer, medicines), sustainable products and organic sales, but it is unclear how much of this volume increase was driven by consumer choice versus availability of options amid out-of-stock conditions.

Income disparity also is likely to continue playing a key role in the growth of health and sustainability markets, with low- and middle-income households reporting more job losses than upper income households (50% versus 32%). This outsized economic pressure on the discretionary budgets of low- and middle-income households may further bifurcate health and sustainability spending across income levels.

Consolidation in retail and fragmentation of market share
With the closure of “non-essential” physical retail locations due to COVID-19, consumers shifted spending to select physical and e-commerce retailers that could provide essential goods and meet their convenience needs. While it is unclear who will be the ultimate winner, the impact of COVID-19 could accelerate further retail consolidation, creating an environment where a small set of players emerges stronger at the expense of smaller or independent players.

At the same time, the pandemic has accelerated short-term fragmentation of packaged goods, either as a true signal of consumer demand or a temporary behavior driven by supply chain constraints and stockouts. Looking ahead, economic uncertainty could have longer-term implications on fragmentation, as brands become increasingly challenged to overcome decreased consumer spend and increased operational challenges.

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Clean energy demand for critical minerals set to soar as the world pursues net zero goals

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Supplies of critical minerals essential for key clean energy technologies like electric vehicles and wind turbines need to pick up sharply over the coming decades to meet the world’s climate goals, creating potential energy security hazards that governments must act now to address, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency. 

The special report, The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions, is the most comprehensive global study to date on the central importance of minerals such as copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements in a secure and rapid transformation of the global energy sector. Building on the IEA’s longstanding leadership role in energy security, the report recommends six key areas of action for policy makers to ensure that critical minerals enable an accelerated transition to clean energy rather than becoming a bottleneck.

“Today, the data shows a looming mismatch between the world’s strengthened climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals that are essential to realising those ambitions,” said Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA. “The challenges are not insurmountable, but governments must give clear signals about how they plan to turn their climate pledges into action. By acting now and acting together, they can significantly reduce the risks of price volatility and supply disruptions.”

“Left unaddressed, these potential vulnerabilities could make global progress towards a clean energy future slower and more costly – and therefore hamper international efforts to tackle climate change,” Dr Birol said. “This is what energy security looks like in the 21st century, and the IEA is fully committed to helping governments ensure that these hazards don’t derail the global drive to accelerate energy transitions.”

The special report, part of the IEA’s flagship World Energy Outlook series, underscores that the mineral requirements of an energy system powered by clean energy technologies differ profoundly from one that runs on fossil fuels. A typical electric car requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car, and an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a similarly sized gas-fired power plant.

Demand outlooks and supply vulnerabilities vary widely by mineral, but the energy sector’s overall needs for critical minerals could increase by as much as six times by 2040, depending on how rapidly governments act to reduce emissions. Not only is this a massive increase in absolute terms, but as the costs of technologies fall, mineral inputs will account for an increasingly important part of the value of key components, making their overall costs more vulnerable to potential mineral price swings.

The commercial importance of these minerals also grow rapidly: today’s revenue from coal production is ten times larger than from energy transition minerals. However, in climate-driven scenarios, these positions are reversed well before 2040.

To produce the report, the IEA built on its detailed, technology-rich energy modelling tools to establish a unique database showing future mineral requirements under varying scenarios that span a range of levels of climate action and 11 different technology evolution pathways. In climate-driven scenarios, mineral demand for use in batteries for electric vehicles and grid storage is a major force, growing at least thirty times to 2040. The rise of low-carbon power generation to meet climate goals also means a tripling of mineral demand from this sector by 2040. Wind takes the lead, bolstered by material-intensive offshore wind. Solar PV follows closely, due to the sheer volume of capacity that is added. The expansion of electricity networks also requires a huge amount of copper and aluminium.

Unlike oil – a commodity produced around the world and traded in liquid markets – production and processing of many minerals such as lithium, cobalt and some rare earth elements are highly concentrated in a handful of countries, with the top three producers accounting for more than 75% of supplies. Complex and sometimes opaque supply chains also increase the risks that could arise from physical disruptions, trade restrictions or other developments in major producing countries. In addition, while there is no shortage of resources, the quality of available deposits is declining as the most immediately accessible resources are exploited. Producers also face the necessity of stricter environmental and social standards.

The IEA report provides six key recommendations for policy makers to foster stable supplies of critical minerals to support accelerated clean energy transitions. These include the need for governments to lay out their long-term commitments for emission reductions, which would provide the confidence needed for suppliers to invest in and expand mineral production. Governments should also promote technological advances, scale up recycling to relieve pressure on primary supplies, maintain high environmental and social standards, and strengthen international collaboration between producers and consumers.

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Global e-commerce jumps to $26.7 trillion, fuelled by COVID-19

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Parts of the online economy have boomed since COVID-19 began, while some pre-pandemic big-hitters have seen a reversal of their fortunes in the last year, amid widespread movement restrictions, UN economists have found.

According to UN trade and development experts UNCTAD, the e-commerce sector saw a “dramatic” rise in its share of all retail sales, from 16 per cent to 19 per cent in 2020.

The digital retail economy experienced most growth in the Republic of Korea, where internet sales increased from around one in five transactions in 2019, to more than one in four last year.

“These statistics show the growing importance of online activities”, said Shamika Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics. “They also point to the need for countries, especially developing ones, to have such information as they rebuild their economies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

The UK also saw a spike in online transactions over the same period, from 15.8 to 23.3 per cent; so too did China (from 20.7 to 24.9 per cent), the US (11 to 14 per cent), Australia (6.3 to 9.4 per cent), Singapore (5.9 to 11.7 per cent) and Canada (3.6 to 6.2 per cent).  

Online business-to-consumer (B2C) sales for the world’s top 13 companies stood at $2.9 trillion in 2020, UNCTAD said on Friday.

Bumpy ride

UNCTAD also said that among the top 13 e-commerce firms – most being from China and the US – those offering ride-hailing and travel services have suffered.

These include holiday site Expedia, which fell from fifth place in 2019 to 11th in 2020, a slide mirrored by travel aggregator, Booking Holdings, and Airbnb.

By comparison, e-firms offering a wider range of services and goods to online consumers fared better, with the top 13 companies seeing a more than 20 per cent increase in their sales – up from 17.9 per cent in 2019.

These winners include Shopify, whose gains rose more than 95 per cent last year – and Walmart (up 72.4 per cent). 

Cashing-up

Overall, global e-commerce sales jumped to $26.7 trillion in 2019, up four per cent from a year earlier, the UN number-crunchers noted, citing the latest available estimates.

In addition to consumer online purchases, this figure includes “business-to-business” (B2B) trade, which put together was worth 30 per cent of global gross domestic product two years ago.

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COVID-19 has reshaped last-mile logistics, with e-commerce deliveries rising 25% in 2020

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COVID-19 has shifted the way people buy goods, accelerating the rise in online shopping and e-commerce deliveries. According to a new report from the World Economic Forum, this has led to a 25% rise in consumer e-commerce deliveries in 2020.

The new report, Pandemic, Parcels and Public Vaccination: Envisioning the Next Normal for the Last-Mile Ecosystem, explores changes seen over the last year which will greatly influence last mile deliveries in the future. For example, it’s expected that 10%-20% of the recent increase in e-commerce deliveries will continue after the pandemic and the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Covid-19 shutdowns have completely reshaped how we live and of course this includes how and what we’re buying,” said Christoph Wolff, Head of Mobility, World Economic Forum. “Leaders must consider and respond to the effects COVID-19 has had on e-commerce deliveries and what impact these changes will have on their cities and communities.”

Beyond rising demand, the past year has also seen a large shift to greener delivery options, with wider spread EV across the industry and more stringent carbon emission rules from cities expected to shape delivery networks in the near future.

Overall, the report finds six main structural changes to the delivery and logistics sector that are expected to last:

Six structural changes

The pandemic has caused an increase in last-mile deliveries that are likely to persist.
In 2020, business-to-consumer parcel deliveries have risen by about 25%. The report suggests that part of this increased demand will be durable, with at least 10%-20% of the growth remaining post-pandemic.

Consumers increasingly buy new types of products online and consider environmental and health impact when buying.
As consumers continue to buy a wider array of goods online, they are also becoming more ecologically aware. For example, 56% of millennials cite environmental protection as the reason for choosing alternatives to home delivery.

Decarbonization of last-mile deliveries has accelerated.
Companies and cities have ramped up commitments to make emission-free deliveries, while many pandemic-related economic stimulus packages, especially in the European Union and China, contain provisions to support green mobility and goods transport.

Faced with budget challenges and increased transport needs, cities steer last-mile transitions.
Many cities, like Seattle and Boston, have started to repurpose kerb space to designated delivery pick-up. Others, including Santa Monica and Amsterdam, are taking bold action on cleaner delivery with “zero-emission delivery zones” and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Proven technologies are fuelling the last-mile ecosystem revolution.
While disruptive new technologies, such as drones and delivery robots, will continue to emerge, the last-mile revolution is happening now as proven technologies scale up. The likes of parcel lockers and data sharing for load pooling are being adopted around the world as the costs of implementation decrease

New business models emerge to meet increased demand for sustainable delivery vehicles.
Certain logistics companies are now offering services to online retailers, which will help them identify the delivery routes most suited to make the immediate transition to electric delivery vehicles.

Last mile for vaccines

While ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines remains the most pressing issue in global vaccine distribution, effective last-mile delivery is another critical issue for countries. The key challenges are cold storage, second vaccine dose needs, and a disconnect between the vaccine and patient journey.

“Governments and logistics companies could think about teaming up with players who are experienced in managing very local, capillary demand and with integrating a large number of local retail outlets,” says Anja Huber, Engagement Manager, McKinsey & Company. “Examples include large online retailers, eGrocery giants and technology platform players”

Potential solutions countries can implement for efficient vaccine delivery include real-time logistics planning, data integration, centralized management of delivery strategies at the national level and many more.

There are also early examples of countries that have handled this challenge particularly well. While there are many factors in vaccine distribution success, broadly speaking, countries with tight integration of healthcare and logistics stakeholders seem to show the highest national vaccination rates two months into 2021.

These include Israel, the UK and Chile outperforming other countries with more decentralized healthcare systems, like the US and Germany, which had slower initial vaccine rollouts.

Clearly, much still needs to be done to ensure developed countries overcome operational issues with vaccine delivery. However, mobility solutions should not overshadow an even larger ethical challenge in the differences of vaccine access between the global north and global south, which is a priority for greater equity.

Future of the last mile

The impact of COVID-19 on the last-mile delivery has accelerated existing trends across the sector, leading to six structural changes expected to shape the future of last mile deliveries.

These will be part of a broader urban mobility transition, driven by public policy and company actions. As cities and logistics leaders continue the sustainable urban delivery transition, close public-private coordination will be critical. Zero Emissions Urban Fleets (ZEUF) network, for example, provides a relevant dedicated stakeholder platform for this work.

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