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Retail and Leisure Outlook Report 2024

 

10 Minute Read

 

Despite the challenging outlook, our report (produced in partnership with NatWest) highlights key opportunities for retail and leisure businesses for 2024, alongside critical insight to help organisations better navigate oncoming headwinds.

Click here to explore working with Retail Economics for publishing world class thought leadership research like this.

 

Contents:

  • Foreword

  • Section one: the big picture

  • Section two: the consumer outlook for 2024

  • Section 3: megatrends

  • Trend one: sustainability and ethical consumption

  • Trend two: generative AI and the tech revolution

  • Trend three: onmichannel reality

  • Trend four: distruptive business models

  • Trend five: permacrisis

  • Conclusion

  • About Retail Economics

 

Section one: the big picture

At a glance:

Five critical themes impacting consumer spending in 2024

Financial pressure is shifting as inflation persists and interest rates remain elevated, forecast to lead to only flat to modest growth in 2024. Here are five critical themes impacting consumer spending in 2024:

  1. Wages and inflation rebalance: Despite inflation easing, household finances are not set to recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2024 as average real incomes remain below 1%. High interest rates are also hampering hiring prospects, limiting spending.

  2. Housing costs escalation: Elevated mortgage rates are locking many homeowners into a period of prolonged depressed finances. Mortgagors exiting fixed rate deals in 2024 will on average need to pay an extra £218 per month in repayments, having an acute impact on middle income households.

  3. Savings returns vs. borrowing costs: While higher interest rates favour older and more affluent savers less affected by rising living costs, those with mortgages and loans are likely to cut consumption due to increasing borrowing, impacting the economy more significantly.

  4. Fiscal drag on higher earnings: National Insurance contribution cuts marginally benefit lower to middle-income workers, but frozen thresholds are leading to fiscal drag as inflation-driven pay rises see more people fall into higher rate bands, contributing to the biggest tax-raising parliament since records began.

  5. Weak consumer confidence: The economic outlook is heavily reliant on consumer reactions to a backdrop of persistent inflation, geopolitical uncertainties, and the end of ultra-low interest rates, denting confidence and impacting spending intentions in the first half of 2024.

 
 

Considerations for consumer-facing businesses

  • Evolve pricing strategies: Evaluate pricing strategies throughout 2024, as easing cost inflation and hesitancy in consumer spending is putting pressure on businesses to pass on softening input costs to lower prices and drive sales.

  • Diversify: Evaluate new revenue streams to support sales and profitability, including new product lines, services and international expansion to drive new relevance and support market share.

  • Ease payments: Focus on competitive finance offers to support spending amid rising borrowing costs.

  • Manage pay increase requests: Pressure on staff costs above historic rates is likely to continue while unemployment is low, vacancies are historically high, and inflation is above target. Financial remuneration can be supplemented with other benefits such as wellbeing and flexible working to support retention in retail, leisure and hospitality.

 

The UK economy staged a remarkable comeback having emerged from the shadows of a global pandemic and energy crisis. This rebound was particularly impressive given the myriad of complex challenges faced by both consumers and businesses such as supply chain disruptions, acute labour shortages, and unrelenting inflation. The economy not only avoided a recession in 2023, but real GDP was nearly 2% above its pre-pandemic level by the middle of the year.

However, the rapid recovery that was driven by strong demand, sturdy wage growth and energy bills support, has reshaped cost of living pressures. Entering 2024, inflation persists above its 2% target, and consumers and businesses are adjusting to the end of decade-long, ultra-low interest rates. As such, the outlook for economic growth in 2024 varies from flat to modest growth (Bank of England, Office for Budget Responsibility).

 

UK living standards are likely to fall by 3.5% in 2024/25 (measured by real household disposable income), compared to pre-pandemic levels (Office for Budget Responsibility). This represents the largest reduction since ONS records began in the 1950s. Therefore, household finances are not set to recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2027/28.

The UK economy staged a remarkable comeback having emerged from the shadows of a global pandemic and energy crisis. This rebound was particularly impressive given the myriad of complex challenges faced by both consumers and businesses such as supply chain disruptions, acute labour shortages, and unrelenting inflation. The economy not only avoided a recession in 2023, but real GDP was nearly 2% above its pre-pandemic level by the middle of the year.

 

However, the rapid recovery that was driven by strong demand, sturdy wage growth and energy bills support, has reshaped cost of living pressures. Entering 2024, inflation persists above its 2% target, and consumers and businesses are adjusting to the end of decade-long, ultra-low interest rates. As such, the outlook for economic growth in 2024 varies from flat to modest growth (Bank of England, Office for Budget Responsibility).

UK living standards are likely to fall by 3.5% in 2024/25 (measured by real household disposable income), compared to pre-pandemic levels (Office for Budget Responsibility). This represents the largest reduction since ONS records began in the 1950s. Therefore, household finances are not set to recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2027/28.

 

“The economy not only avoided a recession in 2023, but real GDP was nearly 2% above its pre-pandemic level by the middle of the year.”

 

Fig 1: Flat to modest economic growth expected in 2024

Source: ONS, OBR, BoE, Retail Economics analysis

 

 

The following section identifies five critical themes that will impact consumer spending throughout 2024:

1: Wages and inflation rebalance

A notable decrease in household disposable income has occurred from the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, characterised by significant double-digit inflation in critical sectors like food and energy. As inflation eases from recent highs and earnings remain resilient, 2024 is set to bring a slight improvement to household finances. However, following a year and a half of real income declines, household finances are not set to recover to pre-pandemic levels for some time, as inflation is not likely to reach its 2% target until late 2025.

A sharp drop in energy and food prices, coupled with a tight labour market, is shifting inflation drivers from external to domestic factors – especially from nominal earnings. Workers are leveraging abundant job openings to negotiate pay hikes to partially offset rising living costs.

Nonetheless, hiring prospects in 2024 are being tempered by high interest rates, leading to slower earnings growth and a rise in unemployment over the next year. While we anticipate a modest increase in real income for the average household (remaining below 1% through 2024/25), this marginal growth is unlikely to supercharge a consumer-led recovery. Factors such as fragile confidence, concerns over rising unemployment, and varying spending patterns across different life stages may restrain the willingness of consumers to spend their limited additional earnings.

 

Fig 2: Real earnings are expected to remain weak throughout 2024 following £49bn cost-of-living hit to household spending power

Source: ONS, OBR, BoE, Retail Economics analysis

 

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Section two: the consumer outlook for 2024

The cost-of-living crisis has seen consumers adapt behaviours to counteract increased household costs – this will continue throughout 2024.

Shoppers have demonstrated increased savviness by cutting back, trading down and leveraging multi-channel propositions, all in attempts to manage budgets during an intense period of high inflation.

However, although inflation has passed its peak, the pressure on household finances continues due to rising borrowing costs. This impact will be felt unevenly with many battling higher mortgage repayments and rising rents, while others benefit from higher returns on savings.

Importantly, expectations and confidence play critical roles in determining the strength of consumer spending. Despite the cost of living falling sharply during 2023, our research shows that households expect ongoing erosion of spending power in 2024. Consumers expect inflation to persist above target at around 3.5% in the second half of 2024, and for earnings to moderate to around 3% in the period. This marks a fall from recent peaks of 11.1% for inflation in October 2022 and 7.8% for earnings in Q3 2023.

 

 

Competing middle and high income spenders

Expectations naturally differ across households. The more affluent expect higher earnings in 2024, while having expectations of lower inflation. Hence, they’re the least likely to expect a weakening in finances. This is critical because the most affluent 20% are responsible for over a third of consumer spending.

By comparison, mortgaged households and private renters (representing half of households) feel more downbeat about 2024 in general. They expect their personal finances to be weaker by the end of the year. A smaller cohort of households in social housing are extremely pessimistic, reflecting some of the most economically vulnerable individuals. Although consumers are generally less pessimistic than in 2023, it ultimately follows a weakening of finances over the past 12 months.

 

Fig 7: Household by type of tenure (proportion of consumers)

Source: Bank of England

 

Those facing mortgage or rent renewals over the next year are particularly pessimistic, skewed towards younger, middle-income households. Although earnings are expected to increase among these groups in 2024, higher interest rates are likely to hit household consumption via higher mortgage and rental costs.

Our research also highlights a strong correlation between expectations of weaker finances and the length of time before mortgage and rent renewals. A net balance of around a quarter of consumers that remortgaged or renewed rental contracts at the end of 2023, expect their personal finances to weaken by the end of 2024, compared to the start of the year.

A third of those that faced mortgage renewals at the end of 2023 were typically middle income, while a quarter were lower-middle income who already spend a higher proportion on housing compared to more affluent groups. Meanwhile, half of those that faced rent renewals were middle-low income and around a quarter middle income.

 

Fig 10: Timing of mortgage and rent renewal shapes personal finance expectations in 2024

Source: Retail Economics

 

For those with mortgages trying to manage the interest burden, 69.6% have made (or expect to make) adjustments to their mortgage agreement. This could be in terms of length, payment values, or equity – often in opposing directions depending on individual circumstances.

Figure 11 shows recent mortgage agreement adjustments. Overall, households have taken proactive measures to reduce their mortgage burden. Three in every five changes to mortgages can be considered proactive, rather than acts of distress. Unsurprisingly, lower income households have been squeezed more than higher income homeowners.

The most affluent households are three times more likely to pay off a lump sum of their mortgage than middle income households. Instead, middle income mortgagors are twice as likely to have withdrawn equity compared to the most affluent, and are twice as likely to have increased their mortgage term.

 

 

Polarised spending

From the many challenges households face due to the cost-of-living crisis, there's a prevailing consumer sentiment that the toughest phase has passed. Granted, while differing fortunes are set to polarise spending across categories, our research shows a likely improvement in sales volumes across goods and services compared to recent lows. However, this is being driven by the most affluent, with low-middle- and middle-income households under greater pressure.

Relative to last year's subdued activity, households are poised to boost spending on essentials like energy, home-cooked food, and transport, as well as on holidays and tradesmen services which suffered pandemic-induced lockdowns and shortages. Conversely, sectors that thrived during the pandemic such as takeaways, electronics, and furniture, are shifting down the priority list.

 

“Relative to last year's subdued activity, households are poised to boost spending on essentials like energy, home-cooked food, and transport, as well as on holidays and tradesmen services.”

 

Fig 12: Households are priortising spending on essentials in 2024

Source: Retail Economics

 

There is also reduced intention to drive year-on-year spending volumes across non-essentials, with stark differences across affluence groups. Middle and low-middle income households who are most likely to be grappling greater housing expenses in 2024 are consequently the least likely to drive volume spending across non-food retail, leisure and hospitality.

 

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Section 3: Megatrends for 2024

The past four years have been defined by unprecedented challenges. Throughout 2024, retail, leisure and hospitality businesses must continue to recalibrate operations despite the weak economic backdrop, investing where necessary to remain relevant.

 

Our report identifies five key megatrends. These trends will demand attention from businesses striving to develop greater resilience in a more complex trading environment; they are:

  1. Sustainability

  2. AI and tech revolution

  3. Omnichannel reality

  4. Disruptive business models

  5. Permacrisis

 

“Throughout 2024, retail, leisure and hospitality businesses must continue to recalibrate operations despite the weak economic backdrop.”

 

 

Megatrend 1: sustainability and ethical consumption

 

Key takeaways:

Consumers

Businesses

Personal responsibility: Younger consumers exhibit stronger personal responsibility to sustainable practices compared to their seniors.

Unification needed: Cross-sector investment is needed to tackle sustainability, but remains challenged by an uneven political backdrop.

Cost barrier: Across sectors, more than two-fifths of consumers say cost is the main barrier to sustainable alternatives.

Investor pressure: Green funds will necessitate sustainable practices if consumer businesses want access to preferential lending.

Essentials under pressure: Consumers express greater concern over sustainability across essentials (e.g. energy and waste) than retail products.

Market range of benefits: To drive spending towards sustainable alternatives, lower-order factors such as price, availability and convenience must be satisfied.

Willingness to pay: Generally, intentions to pay a premium for sustainable practices are low.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UK businesses are rapidly approaching a critical juncture where adapting to sustainability will no longer be an option, but a necessity. This requires a deep understanding of consumer values and expectations across different age groups and sectors to implement effective strategies at cost.

 

Notably, two-fifths of consumers hold the government most responsible for reducing emissions related to consumption. This is broadly consistent across age groups. However, there are clear generational divides concerning opinions on whether businesses or consumers are more responsible, with younger consumers suggesting greater personal commitment to sustainable practices, compared to their older counterparts. This is likely the result of greater awareness of environmental damage associated with business and global corporations.

 

Many younger consumers view implementing governmental and business net zero practices as key opportunities for individual action. Younger consumers also show greater intention to actively seek out brands that align with their values, including eco-friendly products and services. Nevertheless, there are still problematic issues around education and making informed decisions, versus cost and convenience.

 

Many businesses still remain far behind industry-leaders on their emission reduction targets. As a result, significant investment is required to seriously tackle sustainability. Key challenges lie with cost, incentives, and capacity to invest in low carbon alternatives or abatement measures. This is further exacerbated by an uneven political landscape with differing regulations across countries. Nonetheless, for UK businesses, the emergence of green funds will continue to rise in importance when accessing preferential terms with lenders.

 

Fig 17: Younger consumers have stronger personal responsibility to sustainable practices

Q: Which of the following groups do you believe has the greatest impact in reducing carbon emissions from the consumption of products and services? Ranked First

Source: Retail Economics

 

Complete the form at the top of this page now to access the rest of the report

About this report

This "Retail & Leisure Outlook Report 2024" is published by Retail Economics in partnership with NatWest.

The insight contained is critical for industry professionals operating in the retail and retail related industries for improving strategic planning, forecasts and to navigate the ongoing disruption and wider structural changes with the retail sector. Complete the form at the top of this page now to secure your free copy. 

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