As South Africa heads into winter, the northern hemisphere heads into summer – but regardless of where you live, everything is different all over again, with experts seeming to agree that we’re closer to the end of the pandemic than we are to the beginning. Global markets are already showing positive signs, with reflation continuing apace, and the IMF anticipating a 6% global growth for the remainder of 2021. What does the landscape against which that growth will take place look like – and what will the main trends leading it be?
People have been isolated from their friends and family for more than a year and have had to stay away from public spaces, hospitality locations, and entertainment destinations. The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine means that everyone’s going to be able to let off steam as confidence grows - travel, shopping and socialising are going to be big themes in the next 12 months and beyond.
While many customers who turned to online shopping during the pandemic will return for an in-store experience, retailers are going to have to adapt to the changing environment, balancing the costs of brick-and-mortar stores with slick and effective online environments. Dynamic advertising and marketing tactics have changed how brands engage with customers, and social media has brought producers and consumers closer together, too, eliminating middlemen (like wholesalers). This is already seen in the shift by brands like Nike and Adidas to sell directly to end-users rather than via retailers. E-commerce sites will evolve even more, with chatbots and virtual assistants becoming more commonplace, while augmented reality will help online shoppers better understand what that clothing item, make-up, or furniture will look like in their environment.
Cashless transactions have grown in leaps and bounds, rapidly becoming more sophisticated as people have sought ways to avoid touching public surfaces. So much more will be made possible as 5G rolls out, with this transformative tech bringing even more new opportunities for ventures from remote surgery to driverless vehicles.
With China leading the way in developing clean air solutions and actively promoting the adoption of electric vehicles in its cities, the shift to using renewable energy at home, at work, and in transport will increase at pace. Battery manufacturers are working hard to increase the efficiency of their products, while soaring demand has raised interest in metals like nickel, cobalt and lithium. This trend also means that global co-operation is needed in setting standards in this sector, whether for the devices themselves or for charging stations, will be essential.
President Biden is proposing massive infrastructure projects as part of his stimulus programme in the United States, but it’s also a theme being promoted here in South Africa and elsewhere. There’s so much that needs to be built, whether it’s digital infrastructure, housing, or manufacturing facilities, and this will underpin the demand for commodities. In conclusion, none of this is possible without the successful rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, which is vital to lift business and consumer confidence. However, with some countries like South Africa lagging, the inequality gap is likely to widen. Countries with slow or ineffective vaccine strategies will remain blacklisted for travel by those who have had more effective programmes. Business strategies will have to reflect the changed conditions. While many are heading back to restaurants and holidays to recapture the kinds of experiences we had pre-pandemic, the world will never be the same again. This could be for positive reasons – like the pace at which we have adopted technology – or it could be for harmful ones, like the widening inequality gap between population groups and countries too.