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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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Global economy projected to show fastest growth in 50 years

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The global economy is expected to bounce back this year with growth of 5.3 per cent, the fastest in nearly five decades, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

In its new report released on Wednesday, the agency said that the rebound was highly uneven along regional, sectoral and income lines, however.  

During 2022, UNCTAD expects global growth to slow to 3.6 per cent, leaving world income levels trailing some 3.7 per cent below the pre-pandemic trend line. 

The report also warns that growth deceleration could be bigger than expected, if policymakers lose their nerve or answer what it regards as misguided calls for a return to deregulation and austerity. 

Differences in growth 

The report says that, while the response saw an end to public spending constraints in many developed countries, international rules and practices have locked developing countries into pre-pandemic responses, and a semi-permanent state of economic stress. 

Many countries in the South have been hit much harder than during the global financial crisis. With a heavy debt burden, they also have less room for maneuvering their way out through public spending. 

Lack of monetary autonomy and access to vaccines are also holding many developing economies back, widening the gulf with advanced economies and threatening to usher in another “lost decade”. 

“These widening gaps, both domestic and international, are a reminder that underlying conditions, if left in place, will make resilience and growth luxuries enjoyed by fewer and fewer privileged people,” said Rebeca Grynspan, the secretary-general of UNCTAD. 

“Without bolder policies that reflect reinvigorated multilateralism, the post-pandemic recovery will lack equity, and fail to meet the challenges of our time.” 

Lessons of the pandemic 

UNCTAD includes several proposals in the report that are drawn from the lessons of the pandemic. 

They include concerted debt relief and even cancellation in some cases, a reassessment of fiscal policy, greater policy coordination and strong support for developing countries in vaccine deployment. 

Even without significant setbacks, global output will only resume its 2016-19 trend by 2030. But even before COVID-19, the income growth trend was unsatisfactory, says UNCTAD. Average annual global growth in the decade after the global financial crisis was the slowest since 1945. 

Despite a decade of massive monetary injections from leading central banks, since the 2008-9 crash, inflation targets have been missed. Even with the current strong recovery in advanced economies, there is no sign of a sustained rise in prices. 

After decades of a declining wage share, real wages in advanced countries need to rise well above productivity for a long time before a better balance between wages and profits is achieved again, according to the trade and development body’s analysis. 

Food prices and global trade 

Despite current trends on inflation, UNCTAD believes the rise in food prices could pose a serious threat to vulnerable populations in the South, already financially weakened by the health crisis. 

Globally, international trade in goods and services has recovered, after a drop of 5.6 per cent in 2020. The downturn proved less severe than had been anticipated, as trade flows in the latter part of 2020 rebounded almost as strongly as they had fallen earlier. 

The report’s modelling projections point to real growth of global trade in goods and services of 9.5 per cent in 2021. Still, the consequences of the crisis will continue to weigh on the trade performance in the years ahead. 

For director of UNCTAD’s globalization and development strategies division, Richard Kozul-Wright, “the pandemic has created an opportunity to rethink the core principles of international economic governance, a chance that was missed after the global financial crisis.” 

“In less than a year, wide-ranging US policy initiatives in the United States have begun to effect concrete change in the case of infrastructure spending and expanded social protection, financed through more progressive taxation. The next logical step is to take this approach to the multilateral level.” 

The report highlights a “possibility of a renewal of multilateralism”, pointing to the United States support of a new special drawing rights (SDR) allocation, global minimum corporate taxation, and a waiver of vaccine-related intellectual property rights.  

UNCTAD warns, though, that these proposals “will need much stronger backing from other advanced economies and the inclusion of developing country voices if the world is to tackle the excesses of hyperglobalization and the deepening environmental crisis in a timely manner.” 

For the UN agency, the biggest risk for the global economy is that “a rebound in the North will divert attention from long-needed reforms without which developing countries will remain in a weak and vulnerable position.”

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Italy: Pro-growth reforms and government support key to a greener and jobs-rich recovery

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The post-COVID recovery offers an exceptional opportunity for Italy to tackle long-standing obstacles to job creation and the raising of living standards, according to a new OECD report.

The OECD’s latest Economic Survey of Italy says government support for Italian households and businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic should continue until the recovery is firmly underway, but should become increasingly targeted as the economy continues to strengthen. It says that generous fiscal support has been effective in mitigating job losses and preserving productive capacity. This will help boost the short-term recovery as vaccination rates accelerate and restrictions ease. Higher public spending, including from Next Generation EU funds, will support higher investment alongside improved confidence and demand.

The National Recovery and Resilience Plan offers a unique opportunity to create a greener, more digitised and productive economy, the report adds. The government, it says, has an ambitious agenda rightly prioritising reforms to competition, to boost the efficiency of civil justice processes and to reform the public sector in order to tackle uncertainty, delays and costs that currently hamper investment. Green infrastructure and broadband investments can improve the competitiveness of Italian firms.

The report suggests that the chances of implementing this reform plan successfully are greater than on previous occasions. Clear implementation milestones and targets linked to the disbursement of Next Generation EU funds have been publicised, while recently passed laws to simplify green investments and support decision-making  will help facilitate successful implementation of the plan.

The OECD projects Italy’s economic growth to be 5.9% this year and 4.1% in 2022, following an 8.9% fall in GDP in 2020. A stronger-than-expected second quarter explains the upward revision from the 4.5% expansion forecast for 2021 in the OECD’s May Economic Outlook. 

Presenting the report alongside Italy’s Economy and Finance Minister Daniele Franco today, OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said: “Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan is activating stronger, greener, fairer and more digitised growth that will benefit all Italians with improved opportunities to get ahead. A more effective public sector is crucial for ensuring its success. The plan must be fully implemented and complemented with reforms to support further growth, including with more investment in green infrastructure and R&D and reforms to keep driving the effective digital transformation of the Italian economy.”

The report recommends that once the pandemic subsides, public spending and tax policy must be reformed to complement the National Recovery and Resilience Plan. Currently, pension-related expenses crowd out investment in infrastructure, education and training, penalising the young, many of whom are out of work and at risk of poverty.

Labour force participation remains particularly low for women, especially those with children. Access to quality childcare and adult skills training needs to be improved across all regions, the report says.

Compared with the OECD average, taxes on labour remain too high. The report recommends implementing comprehensive tax reform to reduce the complexity of the system and to lower labour taxes. This should be financed through improved compliance – driven by greater use of technology and card payments.

Raising the effectiveness of Italy’s public sector is more urgent than ever. The report says that fully implementing the National Recovery and Resilience Plan will help fill skills gaps in the public sector, further its digitisation and reduce regulatory barriers that inhibit civil servants’ ability to deliver.

The report welcomes the set up for the Plan’s implementation and says the administration would generally become stronger and more agile by reducing the number of existing rules, regulating the services sector and green economy with a stronger focus on outcomes, in line with the government’s priorities and that support sustained growth. The report also recommends encouraging better coordination across Italy’s multiple layers of government.

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Lao PDR: Economic Fallout from COVID-19 Deepened

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Economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, and from the efforts to contain it, deepened in Lao PDR over the second quarter of 2021 as work fell off abruptly and households and businesses reported declines in income and revenue, according to the latest round of the World Bank’s Rapid Monitoring Phone Survey.

The survey, conducted in April-May this year with 2,000 randomly selected households, shows that 51% of survey respondents reported being without work or having had to stop working in April–May 2021, up from 17% in February–March 2021. In the services sector, more than half of workers in wholesale and retail trade and other services had to stop working or switch jobs during the lockdown, according to the survey.

By May 2021, 5.5% of businesses had permanently closed, while 33% were temporarily shuttered. Among businesses that remained in operation, 65% experienced a fall in revenue from pre-lockdown levels. Also in May, around 43% of households experienced a decline in household income relative to before lockdown, leading respondents to express growing concern about food insecurity for people in their communities.

This was the third round of the COVID-19 Rapid Monitoring Phone Surveys of Households in Lao PDR. The surveys are aimed at monitoring the social and economic impacts of the pandemic. The results help provide insights into the effects of the pandemic on household well-being, and feed into policy advice and analytical studies such as the latest edition of the Lao Economic Monitor. Similar surveys are being carried out in 64 countries across the world.

The first round of the Lao phone surveys was conducted in June to July 2020, when the country had just exited the initial nationwide lockdown, and the second round ran from February to March 2021, one year into the pandemic. More details are available on the World Bank’s Lao PDR website. The monitoring is part of a wider health response to the pandemic. The Bank is coordinating a $33 million COVID-19 response project in Laos, supported by various development partners under the guidance of the Ministry of Health.

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