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2021 retail industry outlook

The new rules of retail

There’s little question retail has just lived through a market-shaping year. Consumer behavior changed overnight as health and safety concerns suddenly became a purchase driver. We saw technological adaption that would normally have taken years occur in a matter of months. COVID-19’s continued effects will be felt even after the pandemic subsides.

Understanding retail’s shifting landscape

For our 2021 retail industry analysis, Deloitte interviewed 50 retail executives and 15 of our retail subject-matter specialists to address what the retail world may look like with COVID-19 in the rearview mirror—and what retailers may expect as they plan for 2021 and beyond. Understanding how political and economic factors may unfold will be instrumental to considering future investments and strategies. While it’s difficult to plan around ever-changing political agendas, what is worth considering is how proposed policy changes could affect the retail space.

The trajectory of the pandemic and vaccine rollout will undoubtedly shape the 2021 economic landscape. Retail executives seem to agree that an economic recovery to prepandemic trajectory levels will take time, with six in 10 expecting recovery in the next one to two years—but a quarter see a longer timeline of two to five years. The old playbook and rules will likely have to be thrown out, and bold, differentiated action will be required to stand out from the competition.

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Four opportunities to rewrite the rules

Grocers, home improvement suppliers, and mass merchants benefited from changes in consumer behavior, as well as their designation as essential services. Others, such as apparel and department stores, have struggled since the pandemic’s onset and are approaching the upcoming year with cost-cutting as an imperative. Despite these differences, executives are unified in their desire to not let the crisis go to waste, as it may prove a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for organizations to transform their businesses and rewrite the rules of the retail industry. Specifically, executives identified four priority areas where the rules will likely be rewritten and key investments will take place:

Look again

In today’s rapidly evolving marketplace environment, key business issues are converging, with impacts felt across multiple industry sectors. What are the key trends, challenges, and opportunities that may affect your business and influence your strategy? Look for more perspectives and insights from some of Deloitte’s forward thinkers.

Explore our full collection of 2021 industry outlooks

Take a look back at our 2020 retail industry outlook

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