World Market for Retailing in 2021

September 2021

In 2020, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic fundamentally transformed the global retailing industry, not least by making e-commerce the default option for many homebound consumers. As the world begins tentatively to move past the pandemic, many consumers will return to stores, and the future looks bright for retailing, but retailers must now accelerate the transformation of their physical footprints to provide a seamless shopping experience across store-based and digital channels.

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Examining trends shaping the retailing industry

Evolution of Stores

As remote work patterns reshape mobility trends, retail infrastructure will shift to a leaner, localised and more suburban footprint that devotes a greater amount of physical space to online order fulfilment. Although the look, location, role and feel of bricks-and-mortar stores are evolving, store-based retailing will remain the largest and most important channel globally over the next five years.

From Livestreaming to Live Selling

With the reduction of in-person shopping, due to health concerns, livestreaming made inroads during the crisis, emerging as a digital shopping medium with the ability to create an emotional connection more associated with in-person shopping. Live selling has the potential to further disrupt an already shaken retail industry in 2021 and beyond.

A Renewed Focus on Value

With economic recovery slow in many places and highly uneven in others, many consumers will turn to retail channels specialising in low-cost products. This will be particularly true of essentials like grocery or home care products.

The Great Reset of Last Mile

Rising last-mile delivery costs and environmental concerns, magnified by the crisis-inspired e-commerce boom, are forcing retailers to explore new delivery and collection methods. While companies struggle to build up logistics networks and re-imagine physical assets to handle this new level of demand, consumers are likely to be forced to reset their last mile delivery expectations in 2021.


COVID-19 has transformed the global retailing industry

The Retailing Industry Today

The retailing industry is staging a tentative recovery from the pandemic
Retailing weathered the pandemic better than other service industries
E-commerce posts strong growth as the Asia Pacific region gains ground
The rise of e-commerce powers non-store retailing to new heights
E-commerce projected to be largest global retail channel by sales in 2021
China and the US continue to display the greatest growth opportunities

Leading Companies and Brands

Market consolidation in the global retailing industry picks up speed
Walmart retains the top spot, but e-commerce players are gaining round
Online marketplace operators are recording rapid sales gains

Top Four Trends Shaping the Industry

Examining trends shaping the retailing industry
In the wake of COVID-19, omnichannel will drive the retail recovery
Store-based retail adapts, evolves and mutates
Livestreaming emerges as a tool for engaging digital shoppers in real time
China, US, UK and Brazil emerge as top markets for live selling in 2021
K-shaped recovery means a renewed focus on value for many
Discounters out-perform the rest of grocery retailing
Retailers reimagine fulfilment for a digital-first world
Almost half of population is open to robots or drones making deliveries

Global Outlook

E-commerce will increasingly be the default option for many consumers
E-commerce set to make significant gains in emerging markets

Global Channel Spotlight

Global snapshot of grocery retailers
Global snapshot of non-grocery specialists
Global snapshot of mixed retailers
Global snapshot of non-store retailing

Regional Channel Spotlights

Regional snapshot: Asia Pacific
Regional snapshot: Western Europe
Regional snapshot: Eastern Europe
Regional snapshot: North America
Regional snapshot: Latin America
Regional snapshot: Middle East and Africa
Regional snapshot: Australasia


Sales of new and used goods to the general public for personal or household consumption. Excludes specialist retailers of motor vehicles, motorcycles, vehicle parts, fuel. Also excludes foodservice, rental and hire and wholesale industries (Cash and Carry). Sales value excluding or including VAT/Sales Tax. Retailing is the aggregation of Store-based retailing and Non-store retailing. Retailing excludes the informal retail sector. Informal retailing is retail trade which is not declared to the tax authorities. Informal retailing encompasses (a) sales generated by unregistered and unlicensed retailers, ie retailers operating illegally, and (b) any proportion of sales generated by a registered and licensed retailer which is not declared to the tax authorities. Unregistered and unlicensed retailers operate predominantly (although not exclusively) as street hawkers or operate open market stalls, as these channels are harder for the authorities to monitor than permanent outlets. Activities in the illegal market, which is usually understood to refer to trade in illegal, counterfeit or stolen merchandise, are included within our definition of informal retailing. Activities in the “grey market”, which is usually understood to refer to trade in legal merchandise that is sold through unauthorized channels – for example cigarettes bought legally in another country, legally imported, but sold at lower prices than in authorized channels – will be included as informal retailing if no tax is paid on sale by the retailer. However if the retailer pays tax – for example on cigarettes bought legally in another country but sold at a lower price than standard – the sale is included within formal retailing. In relation to click and collect purchases (i.e. where purchases are made over the internet but picked up at store) where the sales data is attributed depends on where the payment is made: If payment is made in store, then the sale is included in store-based sales. If payment is made over the internet, then the sale is included in internet retailing.

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