But in 2020, the Brexit saga became nothing but background noise, as the world hit pause on just about everything normal. The UK reminisced fondly through rose-tinted glasses about a time when Brexit was our biggest issue.
Three prime ministers later and Britain quietly left the EU on 31 January 2021.
Despite all of the unsettled deals and divided opinions, there have actually been a series of positives to leaving the EU – many of which only came to light due to the pandemic.
When Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a national television announcement that we’d be going into lockdown in March 2020, little did we realise that Britain would experience one of the longest, strictest lockdowns in the world and, as a result, would be one of the hardest hit economies in the western world that year.
Three lockdowns, millions of National Health Service rainbows painted onto windows up and down the country and a tonne of heart-warming, nation-wide doorstep applauds for our front-line workers, we’ve rallied around and are miraculously bouncing back quicker than Boris Johnson heading to the barbers to finally get his hair cut. OK, perhaps not that fast.
One of the main reasons is that the UK’s departure from the EU in fact meant that we were in control of our own vaccine programme, putting freedom into our hands (and arms), at rapid pace. As a result, we were the first western nation to begin the vaccine roll-out, and one of the quickest in the world, closely behind Israel, Chile and the UAE.
Brexit might have split opinion, but you’d struggle to find a remainer that would disagree that the UK is in a far stronger position than our neighbours in the EU.
In a strange way, it’s actually united us a whole lot faster in a post-lockdown world. Because of this, the UK economy is anticipated to recover quicker than any of us had expected. The International Monetary Fund has predicted Britain’s growth will be one of the fastest-growing in 2022, outstripping the US and Europe.
An optimistic nation on the road to recovery
So after months of people dying for a return to some normality (mostly in the form of freshly poured beer), queues started forming as early as 7am on Monday 12th April as non-essential shops, hairdressers and pubs in the UK finally reopened their doors.
The Centre for Retail Research (CRR) predicted that 7 million UK shoppers would be hitting the shops, ready to spend an estimated £600 million on the first day of trading alone. The figure is set to surge to £750 million on the day of writing this.
The stats don’t lie: the excitement and anticipation over here is palpable, what I predict to be a return of the Roaring Twenties, in what will likely be a period of indulgence, celebration and consumption.
And while it’s still early days, according to Scottish Friendly and the Centre for Economics and Business Research, 46 per cent of Brits have seen their savings increase over the past year and are estimated to have an extra £192 billion lying dormant in bank accounts. With households planning to spend a predicted 26 per cent of those savings, it’s a hugely promising time for brands and retailers as customers start to breathe life back into the economy.
Of course, it’s not just the UK that’s a little richer cash-wise. According to Gregory Daco, Chief U.S. Economist at Oxford Economics, there was a collective $1.6 trillion more savings in the United States in 2020, more than doubling household savings year-on-year. In Europe, the figure sits at around the €400 billion mark.
And with billions of consumers across the globe craving exciting, in-real-life experiences, coupled with this enticing surplus of savings for many countries, it creates a promising and exciting time for the retail industry across the globe.
While vaccine roll-outs and lockdowns have been different in every country across the world, we’ll experience a collective optimism as we leave the past year behind for brighter days.
The apprehension we’ve seen over the last year or so from our retail clients around the world is disappearing by the second, and while there’s still a question mark over what the future looks like and how to navigate the changed retail landscape, brands are now seeing the lack of clarity as an opportunity. The fact that the whole world feels a pent-up desire to experience life again is a big part of the positivity that’s driving businesses forward, too.
With 788 million vaccinations now administered across the globe, key markets such as America now ramping up their recovery programmes and the collective need for a good old-fashioned party, it’s hard to see any outcome other than the whole world bouncing back to new highs of optimism and economic fortune.
So here’s to embracing the new era of experience-rich retail. Long live the age of creative expression.Brexit