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5 Big Picture Trends Being Accelerated by the Pandemic

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As every email introduction has reminded us in 2020, we’re living in “unprecedented times”.

No doubt, even after a viable vaccine is released to the general public and things begin to return to some semblance of normalcy, there will be long lasting effects on society and the economy. It’s been said that COVID-19 has hit fast forward on a number of trends, from e-commerce to workplace culture.

Today, we’ll highlight five of these accelerating trends.

The following article uses charts and data from our new book Signals (hardcover, ebook) which covers the 27 macro trends transforming the global economy and markets. In some cases, where appropriate, we’ve added in the most recent projections and data.

#1: Screen Life Takes Hold

Smartphones have drastically altered many parts our lives – including how we spend time. In the decade from 2008 to 2018, screen time on mobile devices increased 12x.

increasing screen time

Fast forward to today, and screen time is up across the board, with some of the most dramatic increases seen among kids and teenagers. 44% of people under the age of 18 now report four hours or more of screen time per day – up from 21% prior to the pandemic.

Gaming is another digital segment that has benefited from the pandemic. Video game revenue spiked in the springtime, and sales have remained strong going further into 2020. Companies are hoping that casual gamers won over during lockdown will continue playing once the pandemic has come to an end.

gaming sales growth

Acceleration signal: International bandwidth and internet traffic was already increasing steadily, but COVID-19 stay-at-home activity has blown away previous numbers.

international internet traffic growth

Even as more workplaces and schools begin to operate normally again, it’s doubtful that screen time will drop back down to pre-COVID levels.

#2: The Big Consumer Shake-Up

The consumer economy has been innovating on two fronts: making physical buying as “frictionless” as possible, and making e-commerce as nimble as possible. COVID-19 broke old habits and sped up that evolution.

Innovations in real world shopping appear to be moving in the direction of cashierless checkouts, but in order for that model to work, people first need to embrace contactless payment methods such as mobile wallets and cards with tap payment.

So far, the pandemic has been an accelerant in moving people away from cash and pin-and-swipe credit cards in lagging markets. Once people get used to the convenience of contactless payments, it’s likely they’ll continue using those methods.

cashierless retail

Of course, no conversation about e-commerce is complete without talking about Amazon. The company has seen consistent growth in subscription revenue in recent years, and the company’s actions have a wide-reaching effect on the rest of the industry.

amazon revenue and speed

Much like the gaming industry, e-commerce companies like Amazon are hoping that people who dabbled with online ordering during the pandemic months, will convert into lifelong customers.

Acceleration signal: E-commerce penetration projections have shifted upward.

ecommerce forecast

In hindsight, 2020 could be an inflection point where e-commerce gained a much bigger slice of the overall retail pie.

#3: Peak Globalization

Globalization went on a tear starting from the mid-1980s until it hit a plateau during the financial crisis. Since that point, global trade as a percentage of GDP has flat-lined in the face of trade wars, and now COVID-19.

globalization plateau chart

Trade was obviously impacted by the pandemic, and it’s too early to say what the long-term effects will be. One thing that is clear is that the information component of globalization is becoming an even more important piece of the world’s economic puzzle.

globalization pillars

Even before COVID-19 took hold, the global services trade was growing 60% faster than the goods trade, and was valued at approximately $13.4 trillion in 2019.

Acceleration signal: The dip in merchandise trade looks eerily similar to the one that took place in 2008.

merchandise trade

#4: The Wealth Chasm

On the high end of the wealth spectrum, billionaires are worth more than ever.

billionaires compared with countries

Meanwhile, in the broader economy, inequality has grown over the last few decades. Those in the top 50% wealth bracket have seen increasing gains, while the bottom 50% have seen stagnation.

This issue is sure to be compounded by economic turmoil brought on by COVID-19. Younger generations face the dual challenges of being more likely to be negatively impacted by the pandemic, while also being the least likely to have savings to cover an interruption in income.

In fact, nearly half of people in the 18–24 year old age group have nothing saved at all.

financial impact of covid-19

The longer the economy is affected by COVID-19 measures, the more of a wedge will be driven between people who have continued working and those who are employed in impacted industries (e.g. tourism, events).

Acceleration signal: Growth in the net worth of billionaires has been largely unaffected by COVID-19.

billionaire wealth

#5: The Flexible Workplace

As of 2019, over half of companies that didn’t have a flexible or remote workplace policy cited “longstanding company policy” as the reason. In other words, that is just the way things have always worked.

Of course, the pandemic has forced many companies to rethink these policies.

remote work preferences

This grand experiment in remote work and distributed teams will have an impact on office life as we know it, potentially reshaping the entire “office economy”. The impact is already being felt, with global commercial property investment volume falling by 48% in Q3 2020.

Acceleration signal: Thousands of people are moving out of pricey urban areas, presumably because they are able to work remotely from a cheaper location.

migration from urban areas

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Markets

Which Retailers Operate in the Most Countries?

From fast-fashion giant H&M to Apple, we show the top retailers globally with the largest international presence.

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This treemap shows the top retailers operating in the most countries in 2023.

The Top Retailers Operating in the Most Countries

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Today, international expansion is a key growth strategy for the world’s top retailers as companies target untapped markets with the highest potential to drive revenue and profit streams.

While traditional retailers have sought out digital strategies as the industry evolves and consumer behaviors change, physical storefronts continue to be a dominant driver of retail sales. In 2023, brick-and-mortar sales comprised 81% of retail sales globally.

This graphic shows the top retailers operating in the most markets worldwide, based on data from the National Retail Federation.

Global Retailers With the Largest International Footprint

Here are the global retailers with the widest-reaching presence around the world in 2023:

RankingRetailerNumber of Countries of First-Party OperationHeadquarters
1H&M68🇸🇪 Sweden
2IKEA51🇳🇱 Netherlands
3Inditex45🇪🇸 Spain
4Decathlon34🇫🇷 France
5Carrefour32🇫🇷 France
6Sephora (LVMH)31🇫🇷 France
7Schwarz Group30🇩🇪 Germany
8Fast Retailing27🇯🇵 Japan
9Euronics International25🇳🇱 Netherlands
10Apple25🇺🇸 U.S.

Notably, eight of the top 10 companies with the widest market reach hail from Europe.

Fast-fashion giant H&M ranks first overall, with 4,454 stores across 68 countries last year. In 2023, the Swedish company earned $21.6 billion in revenues, with its largest markets by number of store locations being the U.S., Germany, and the UK. This year, it plans to open 100 new stores in growth markets, along with shutting down 160 stores in established locations, ultimately decreasing its global store count.

In second is IKEA, with a presence in 51 countries. Last year, the company expanded its footprint in India, launching its first store in the tech hub, Hyderabad. While the company has a broad international reach, its number of storefronts is a fraction of H&M, at 477 total stores worldwide.

Looking beyond the continent, Japan’s Fast Retailing is the top retailer in Asia, operating in 27 countries globally. As the parent company to fashion brand Uniqlo, it also stands as the seventh most valuable listed firm by market capitalization in the country.

Additionally, Apple is the sole American company to make this list, with storefronts in 25 countries. Overall, the company operates four types of retail stores: regular, AppleStore+, flagships, and flagship+. Regular stores often earn $40 million annually, while flagship+ stores typically earn more than $100 million.

By 2027, the company plans to build or remodel 53 stores globally, with the majority located in the U.S. and China.

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