• IE
Choose your location?
  • Global Global
  • Australian flag Australia
  • French flag France
  • German flag Germany
  • Irish flag Ireland
  • Italian flag Italy
  • Polish flag Poland
  • Qatar flag Qatar
  • Spanish flag Spain
  • UAE flag UAE
  • UK flag UK

Consumer Trends 2024: A global perspective on people and employment

23 January 2024
The Consumer sector remains as fast-paced as ever, with ongoing labour supply challenges, changing customer behaviour related to cost of living and sustainability, and a rapid growth in technology. As expected, Consumer sector organisations are rising to the challenge. 

Having the right people, in the right place, at the right time: Labour supply in the spotlight

Labour supply has remained a constant challenge throughout 2023 and this trend looks set to continue in 2024. The economic crisis has put increased pressure on employees. Many are seeking out the most lucrative pay packages in order to combat the impact of rising costs. With many employers simply not being able to afford increased labour costs, as well as overhead costs generally, they need to think outside the box to attract and retain talent - salary may not be enough.

A positive workplace culture, demonstrative investment in technical and sustainable solutions, brand integrity, flexibility, employee well-being and career progression have never been more important. 

According to a study by McKinsey Global Institute, 52% of all activities in retail can be automated with existing technology. It is therefore essential for employers to identify current and future skills shortages, fully automate areas that can be automated and transfer/reskill and reassign talent to plug the existing and emerging gaps which can't be automated. Re-skilling workers is essential and potentially highly attractive to future talent, who will want to retrain and gain new skills necessary for the long term.

The Consumer sector also has to be able to flex up and down depending on customer supply and demand. Creating a flexible workforce designed for the future can be challenging. However, untapped sources or previously underutilised pockets of the population can provide a vital labour supply helping to meet fluctuating demands. Invariably, this often serves to deliver a more diverse workforce as well as solving workforce challenges. For example, employers in the Consumer sector are increasingly recruiting ex-offenders and a few have pioneered this strategy very successfully over many years. In the continued wake of Brexit leading to staff shortages, other employers are following suit. In addition, government-run schemes are seeking to encourage and promote older workers back into the workforce, something that also provides a useful supply of talent. For example, in the UK the government has launched "returnerships", an initiative to encourage adults over the age of 50 to get back into work and embark on new careers. Skills boot camps, apprenticeships and sector-based work academy programmes are all being offered to help boost this labour supply. Other employers are reaping the benefits of focussed hiring, ensuring positive action is taken to include neurodiverse employees and the diversity of thought this brings - regularly providing businesses with the competitive edge that they need. Not only does recruiting outside the "standard" channels help solve the labour supply challenge, it also helps to create a more diverse workforce. 

Authentic DEI

A positive workplace culture with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) front and centre remains a top priority for employers in the Consumer sector. Now more than ever employers are being challenged on the authenticity of their statements. "Pinkwashing" is an emerging term used to refer to the practice of attempting to benefit from purported support for LGBTQ+ rights, often as a way to profit or to distract from a separate agenda. Many employers in the consumer sector have been challenged on pinkwashing, for example when using pride logos on the website but failing to truly support the cause. Similar accusations have been made with regard to greenwashing (overstating a commitment to the environment) and bluewashing (overstating a commitment to social practices). Employers which take genuine steps to demonstrate their commitment to DEI will reap the rewards. Demonstrable action includes educating the workforce through effective training, circulating updated policies and procedures, company-wide workshops, inclusion of a variety of stakeholders and regular campaigns of support. 

Mental health and well-being

Mental health is another challenging issue for employers to navigate and will be a primary focus going forward. There has been a steady increase in the number of people with mental health problems across all sectors. Recent United Nations reporting estimates that one in four people around the world suffer with mental health, many as a result of the increasing world challenges. Consumer sector employers need to not only support their workforce with their own mental health but they also need to educate their workforce on how to manage customers with mental health problems. We have seen an increasing number of cases where employees have had to manage challenging situations, including violent behaviour. This not only challenges the workforce, but can also leave the organisation open to discrimination in goods and services claims when a situation is handled inappropriately. Employers should make sure that suitable training and support is in place and that employees' wellbeing is prioritised.

Also read our insight 'Creating a fearless workplace'.

Future-proofing your workforce for the tech revolution

The Consumer sector and channels for consumers is evolving. From AI in the workplace, to new and innovative ways to shop - the sector is not standing still. Employers have to adapt and look to the future to ensure they stay ahead. 

AI provides a wealth of opportunity for employers and can assist in: recruitment, algorithms in shopping behaviours, performance management and profiling employees – the list goes on. However, there are a number of legal considerations, including concerns over discrimination, algorithms providing biased outcomes and data protection issues. 

For a more detailed consideration of AI in the workplace please also see our article here.

We have seen the PhyDigital experience take off, combining ecommerce with the more traditional store experience. Imagine all the benefits of in-store retail (sales assistant advice, touch and feel of the product) with the ease of tech-enabled online retail (delivery to your home, easy returns, access to stock). It will be important for employers to ensure the workforce are skilled in the future demands of the sector. Employee engagement will be crucial to help ensure the workforce are truly on board with the change – clear communication, training and incentives will all help. 

More and more stores are implementing self-checkouts reducing the need for as many staff on tills. Again, there is a need for training and ensuring displaced employees are re-skilled where possible to work in different areas of the organisation. Unfortunately, with the increased trust in customers also comes an increased risk of theft. Self-checkouts have made it easier for customers to steal and that places extra responsibility on staff to deal with difficult situations. The cost of living crisis has also led to a surge in thefts. Support and training are again key factors – employees should be left in no doubt what is and what is not expected of them. Employers should also be aware of their health and safety responsibilities toward their staff.   

In conclusion

The speed of change presents the Consumer sector with significant challenges, however there are opportunities. Employers which are able to foster a positive workplace culture and a sense of unity built on trust and authenticity, should be able to navigate the changing times. As the saying goes "culture eats strategy for breakfast" – the right workplace culture facilitates change management and undoubtedly promotes innovation. 

If you have any questions or would like to discuss any of these topics and what they mean for you and your business, please get in touch with our Consumer sector and Employment experts. 

Back to hub
Click here to return back to the Consumer Trends 2024 hub.
Interested in more similar content?
Register to receive our regular sector and legal insights directly to your inbox.