Four Monumental Trends Changing Retail in 2024

Retailers have been on a roller-coaster ride for the last few years. A global pandemic, supply chain disruptions, inordinately high inflation, and poor economic growth worldwide have profoundly impacted the industry. Consumer behavior has also changed, as evidenced by the rise in omnichannel shopping experiences. As consumer confidence fluctuates in early 2024, their appetite for goods remains surprisingly strong.

Leveraging ABI Research’s most recent market forecasts, I’d like to identify four trends that embody the retail industry outlook for 2024 and beyond. These insights are pivotal for technology vendors to understand the demand for digital solutions that optimize retail store/warehouse operations.

1. Greater Demand for Omnichannel Shopping Experiences

While in-store sales have made a strong return post-pandemic, recent survey findings suggest that 70% of consumers prefer omnichannel shopping. Retailers have responded by increasingly focusing on delivering a consistent shopping experience across online and in-store mediums.

In North America, this shopping trend is reflected in the expected decline in retail stores across the continent. Between 2024 and 2030, ABI Research forecasts that the number of retail stores in the United States will dwindle at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of -1.9%. For the Canadian retail industry, that number will be -0.8%

The story is the same in Europe, where the number of retail stores will decrease at a CAGR of -0.9%. The top two leading economies in the region—the United Kingdom and Germany—will experience the most significant decline in retail stores (-2.6% and -2%, respectively).

However, it’s worth noting that physical retail stores will remain more resilient outside of the five leading Western European economies (the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, and Italy).

2. Employee Demand Falling in Western Economies

Retailers’ focus on omnichannel and automated technology will gradually decrease the demand for floor workers. With these trends in mind, our analysts forecast a sharp drop in retail employees in North America and some European countries.

  • North America: The number of retail employees will grow at a CAGR of -2.6%, decreasing from 15.3 million in 2024 to 13.1 million in 2030.
  • Europe: Besides Spain, all the leading economies in Europe will experience a decrease in the number of retail employees.

3. The United Kingdom Leads the Online Retail Sales Race

A recent study from e-commerce software provider Scurri found that 33% of U.K. consumers make more online purchases now than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, of all the retail markets ABI Research analyzed, consumers in the United Kingdom are the most likely to purchase products online. In 2024, our analysts expect 31.2% of total retail sales in the country to be online. For comparison, the next two countries—Germany and the United States—see 17.1% and 16.9% of retail transactions made online, respectively.

Reflecting this retail trend, the number of brick-and-mortar stores in the United Kingdom is declining at the fastest rate (-2.6% CAGR) of the countries analyzed. The United Kingdom will also experience the most striking drop in the number of retail workers employed (-5 % CAGR).

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4. Online Retail Sales Penetration Differs by Industry

While online retail sales penetration is up across industries, consumers prefer online shopping for electronics products the most. In fact, our research indicates that consumer electronics had the highest percentage of online retail sales in every major North American and Western European economy besides Canada. In the United States, about six out of ten consumer electronics products are purchased online. That number is between four and five out of ten for other countries.


Clothing & footwear is another online-centric industry, closely trailing consumer electronics. For most countries we studied, between 30% and 45% of apparel sales transactions occur on e-commerce platforms.

On the other end of the spectrum, consumers are least likely to purchase food & beverage products online. The United Kingdom has the highest online sales rate for food & beverage products, at just 16.3%, while most other countries are at the sub-10% mark. 

Why Digital Technology Adoption Is Needed

The retail industry in 2024 is a story of two halves. The first half entails consumers showing a growing preference for cross-channel shopping. Indeed, consumers expect a high-quality experience whether shopping on an e-commerce platform or in a brick-and-mortar store. Naturally, these changing attitudes dictate the next moves that retail business leaders will make.

The second half of the retail industry story involves businesses increasingly digitalizing their stores and supply chains to meet this shifting consumer demand. In addition to consumers preferring omnichannel shopping, retailers must also mitigate recent labor shortages. Retailers have always struggled with employee retention, but the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this challenge. For example, 70% of retail industry employers reported decreased job applications as of July 2021. These effects have lingered, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting 540,000 job openings in the retail space as of January 2024.

As retailers focus on omnichannel and contend with labor shortages, they will look to digital technologies that automate various tasks. For example, Electronic Shelf Labels (ESLs) can manage in-store/warehouse inventory more efficiently than human workers. Bluetooth®-enabled ESLs also ensure that product prices and promotions are displayed accurately and updated in real time.

Another emerging technology at retailers' disposal is inventory-scanning robots. These self-navigating robots leverage cameras and sensors to scan shelves for inventory counts. Moreover, the focus on omnichannel shopping experiences spurs demand for Micro-Fulfillment Centers (MFCs) to accelerate item-picking processes. Ultimately, these technologies shorten the last-mile delivery window and sustain high levels of customer satisfaction.

For a deeper understanding of technology adoption in the retail industry and the latest trends shaping the industry’s future, download the following ABI Research reports:

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