Future Scenarios and the $5.5 Trillion Swing Future Scenarios and the $5.5 Trillion Swing

For the past 15 years, retail in emerging markets has experienced tremendous growth and profound change. Yet, geopolitics, economics, technology, and social change raise important questions about the future. How these factors play out could have a huge impact—a swing of more than $5 billion in emerging market retail sales between the best- and worst-case scenarios.

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To date, emerging countries’ appeal has outweighed the challenges. Most international retailers have overcome the obstacles to build global portfolios consisting of both mature and emerging markets. However, growth is no longer a given. In the past three years, retail in emerging markets has seen zero growth, and sales in developed markets has declined 3 percent annually.

So in the next 15 years, where is retail in emerging markets headed? Will it return to a path of growth, or has its heyday come and gone?

These are the questions we explore in this paper. Looking over the horizon has never been easy, especially in an environment marked by unprecedented levels of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and disruption. To that end, we use a scenario-based approach because, as the expression goes, it is better to be imprecisely right than precisely wrong.

In this paper, we outline four possible futures, each determined by two key variables: the pace of technology adoption in emerging markets, and the stance governments take toward trade. How these variables play out will have significant impact: The difference between the worst-case (limited technology adoption and protectionist governments) and best-case (broad technology adoption and open markets) scenarios is a swing of $5.5 trillion in emerging market retail sales.

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