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How will normal life appear in 2021?

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The COVID-19 pandemic that upended life in 2020 shows no signs of relenting just because a new year and new vaccines have arrived.

And while spring and summer are expected to move us in the direction of normal life, there remains the question of what that version of normal will look like.

Two new reports from Deloitte — one looking at the challenges faced by suppliers and one focused on retailers — attempt to answer that question, and the upshot seems to be that the effects of the pandemic will continue to be felt long after the virus has been vanquished.

Deloitte’s “2021 Retail Industry Outlook: The New Rules of Retail” surveyed retail executives and other experts and found that the new normal won’t look just like the old normal.

For one thing, the U.S. economy will bounce back in the second half of 2021 as vaccine deployment becomes widespread, according to the report, but it will probably not return to pre-COVID-19 levels until early 2022.

What is perhaps even more significant is that consumer behaviors have changed during the pandemic, and some of those changes will likely be ­permanent.

Most retailers anticipate that consumers will continue to engage with them digitally throughout 2021, for example. But only three in 10 executives rate themselves as having mature capabilities within digital, according to Deloitte. As a result, most are planning major investments in their e-commerce, contactless capabilities and store technology ­capabilities.

Improving supply chain resiliency is also a priority — eight out of 10 retailers suveyed by Deloitte expect to make moderate to major investments in their supply chains this year. The same number of U.S. retailers also see the ability to measure the resiliency as increasingly important.

The Deloitte study suggests that health and safety will remain a top priority for consumers, and hence for retailers, even after the pandemic is over. Most retail executives say they plan to make moderate to large investments in health and safety initiatives — from sanitation and barriers to employee testing capabilities — in 2021.

The pandemic has also created a unique opportunity for retailers to rethink their cost structures, and new rules of profitability will enable retailers to explore alternative ways of engaging consumers, according to the report.


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