Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 12/2012

Retail 2022: How the Economist Intelligence Unit sees the retail landscape changing over the next decade

November 2012

Economist Intelligence Unit


Ten years is a long time in retail, especially given the technology changes and emerging-market growth that are continuing to cause consumer habits to evolve. A decade ago mobile phones were something you made calls on. In 2002 Amazon had only just made the shift into profitability. There was no Facebook. There was not even a Myspace, although pioneers like Friends Reunited and Friendster were laying the foundations for the future success of the social network format. The UK high street was growing and retailers were midway through a long-term policy of aggressive big-box expansion that has reshaped the shopping landscape. In 2002 Chinese nominal GDP was less than 15% of that of the US, barely 3% on a per capita basis. The world is a much more connected place now. Consumer points of sale stretch from the high streets and malls of a decade ago to anywhere there is a phone or Wi Fi signal today. Social networks have gone beyond being a means of contacting friends to become shop fronts and avenues of brand engagement. The UK high street is in crisis, with big name casualties, while globally retailers are trying to shift direction away from big box into convenience and online channels. Meanwhile, China’s GDP is half that of the US and growing quickly. The Economist Intelligence Unit expects the changes in consumer habits to continue accelerating along this path to 2022. Although downturns and periods of weak consumer sentiment are cyclical, the fallout from the economic crisis of 2007 has been a catalyst for change and could underpin longer-term trends. Emerging-market growth will define the retail landscape of the future, not just in terms of demand but also by playing an increasingly acquisitive role in Western markets, which could lead to some familiar brands becoming Chinese or Indian owned.