If there is anything 2023 has taught retail and e-commerce leaders, is how resilient the consumer can be. As inflation predictions for the year remained lower than real-world inflation, and as food and gas prices continued double-digit increases around the globe, consumers still found ways to spend - albeit more consciously and strategically.

In the July report of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) World Economic Outlook projected that global headline inflation will fall from 8.7% in 2022 to 6.8% in 2023 and 5.2% in 2024. However, in the US, groceries are up 4.9%, electricity is up 3% and rent has increased by 7.7% as of September, creating the stirrings of a lackluster season of spending as the final quarter of 2023 begins.

Despite mixed feedback on factors creating roadblocks for consumer spending, there are some positives that reveal to Omnia that, as the final quarter of 2023 begins, consumers will prove their robustness once more: Stronger spending in the US over the Summer and higher consumer confidence throughout Europe’s biggest economies. Let’s delve into the nitty gritty to find out if e-commerce and retail can expect a prosperous festive season.


Festive season 2023: Consumer spending predictions

At the start of the fourth quarter of 2023, Mastercard’s SpendingPulse Report found that consumer spending for the festive season will result in a 3.7% year-on-year increase in retail sales - a result that has not been adjusted for inflation. The report, which monitors online and offline payments in retail, gives a nod to continued consumer resilience, despite the aforementioned staggered disinflation and economic growth.

Compared to 2022, in which the festive season performed better than expected due to pent-up demand and left-over stock, a rebalancing effect will likely take place in 2023, as brands and retailers do not have built-up inventory and consumer demand to rely on to make additional sales. 

Steve Sadove, senior advisor for Mastercard predicts that “With numerous choices and tightening budgets, you can anticipate shoppers to be increasingly selective and value-focused.” He adds that “the most effective holiday strategy will be to meet consumers where they are - personalised promotions to in-store experiences will be key in doing so.”

E-commerce will see larger growth from consumers than brick-and-mortar

The report found that omnichannel shopping with continue to grow, however, e-commerce purchases will experience greater support with a 6.7% increase while in-store shopping will see a 2.9% increase year-on-year. On the verticals side, electronics will see the greatest increase at 6%, groceries at 3.9% and apparel at only 1% increase compared to 2022’s season.


Global economic overview: Disinflation slower than expected, advanced economies stagnate on growth

“Global economic activity has proven resilient in the first quarter of this year, leading to a modest upward revision for global growth in 2023,” Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) chief economist, said in a statement. “But global growth remains weak by historical standards.”

The July 2023 edition of the IMF’s World Economic Outlook announced it expects global growth to be 3% in both 2023 and 2024. Compared to the projections made in April, this was an increase of 0.2 percentage points for the 2023 estimate, while the 2024 projection remained unchanged. 

A number of factors have contributed to the more positive economic outlook. The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that COVID-19 is no longer a global health emergency, economic activity is steadier and supply chains are flowing better. But even with these improvements, the 3% growth projections are still lower than pre-pandemic levels: Annual global economic growth averaged 3.8% from 2000 to 2019. In 2022, global growth was 3.5%.


Inflation in key markets impacts overall growth

Looking specifically at the markets that pertain to Omnia’s clients - the US, UK, and Euro zone areas - the same IMF report shows that the slowdown in inflation is more concentrated in advanced economies such as these, which are projected to see growth rates fall from 2.7% in 2022 to 1.5% in 2023 and 1.4% in 2024. 


Source: IMF World Economic Outlook 2023.

In the US, growth is projected to be 1.8% in 2023 and just 1.0% in 2024. The country continues to struggle with some of the worst inflation since the 1980s, with the US central bank raising rates from 0.08% to over 5% since March 2022. However, inflation is progressively easing in the US: In July 2023, inflation was at 3.2%, down from the June 2022 peak of 9.1%

Still heavily impacted by the sharp spike in gas prices caused by the start of the Russia-Ukraine war in 2022, growth in the Eurozone area is set to decelerate, projected to achieve only 0.9% growth in 2023 and 1.5% in 2024. From 2021 to 2022, gas prices across Europe increased by 150% as the continent’s largest supplier of gas, Russia, ceased its supply to the continent. Germany, in particular, is struggling to overcome inflation and energy costs, making it the only advanced economy projected to contract in 2023.

Growth in the UK is also trudging through: After achieving economic growth of 4.1% in 2022, the second-highest among the advanced economies, the country is projected to grow by only 0.4% in 2023. In July this year, inflation was 6.8%, the lowest it’s been since February 2022. This improvement is desperately needed, as the UK experienced seven months of double-digit inflation between September 2022 and March 2023.


Going into festive shopping, how are consumers feeling?

As we move farther beyond the end of the COVID-19 emergency and start of geopolitical tensions in Europe, consumer sentiment seems to be improving globally, but is still in the negative range in many regions.

Consumer confidence in the Eurozone is still low this Summer but did increase to -15.1 in July 2023, its highest level since February 2022. This has been fuelled by improvements in the consumer’s view on their household’s past and future financial situations, as well as the expected general economic landscape in their respective country.

According to McKinsey, consumer confidence around mid-2023 was at its highest in Italy, Spain and Germany, which is surprising considering Germany’s projected growth rate for 2023 is a contraction and not an expansion, which was discussed earlier.


Source: McKinsey & Company.

Across the Atlantic, consumer confidence in the US hit its highest level in two years in July 2023 and remained consistent throughout their Summer months at the end of the third quarter. This has led to increased consecutive spending, with retail sales rising 0.7% from June to July, and a 3% year-on-year increase for September.

At the same time, the impact of inflation can still be felt: In July 2023, the typical American household spent $709 USD more than they spent two years ago to purchase the same goods and services. The good news is that, throughout the third quarter, inflation continued to decrease.


Looking ahead to 2024

Consumers worldwide continue to balance the pressure of higher prices with their desire or need to spend, while their governments attempt to rein in inflation and stimulate growth even as macroeconomic tensions continue everywhere. And, while consumer sentiment does seem to be improving since the close of the COVID-19 emergency, levels remain below pre-pandemic norms.

As for inflation, the IMF predicts global headline inflation to fall slightly from 6.8% in 2023 to 5.2% in 2024. The organisation projects that underlying core inflation will decline more gradually, showing a slower decrease than what was predicted in 2022.

The results of consumer spending for the 2023 festive season will all depend on a country’s labour market, their disinflation rates, as well as the consumer’s ability to access savings or credit. These are the factors that intertwine to create the pool of possibility for consumer spending. With consumer sentiment increasing (ever so incrementally) and a more robust consumer, e-commerce and traditional retail can look forward to an abundant shopping season.