Roaring twenties

Picture the scene: it’s late afternoon in the summer of 2021, and life is good. You lean back and sip your champagne in the hazy sun after a long hot day at the beach. Absentmindedly dusting the sand off your legs, you wonder whether it’s too early to start getting ready for tonight’s party, the third of the week.

Okay, we’ll admit the above may be a tad farfetched. Unfortunately, our responsibilities will largely still exist come the summer. But the very exciting fact remains: a wave of positivity is coming.

In fact, the post-lockdown return of the Roaring Twenties is something many experts have been speculating over, in what’s anticipated to be a period of indulgence, celebration and consumption for many of us. Sign me up.

Social epidemiologist Dr Nicholas Christakis explains in his new book Apollo’s Arrow, that after pandemics end, people seek out extended periods of social interaction to make up for lost time – which isn’t really too surprising a discovery.

As we all emerge from our socially-deprived caves it’s highly likely that any social anxiety will soon melt away as we embrace our new-found freedom.

 

So what can we learn about consumer mindsets in the past?

Just over a century ago, the US had emerged from the end of World War I and went straight into the Spanish Flu of 1918. This left the nation broken and craving not just their old normality, but a new wave of hedonistic fun.

This worldwide need gave rise to one of the greatest periods of the last century; an era of Gatsby decadence, Jazz music, and a self-indulgent embrace of the good life.

It goes without saying that economies boomed.

Described as “the first truly modern decade” – with the wide-spread arrival of the telephone, radio, cinema, ready-to-wear clothing, the car, and the first assembly lines – it was a decade of firsts that transformed the way people lived.

Earnings rose, prices fell and US credit expansion gave way to a huge increase in mass consumption as everyone reached excitedly for higher standards of living.

Through all this, the mindset of society as a whole changed from one of hardship and deprivation to one of possibility.

So what parallels can we draw from the 1920s to 2021?

“During epidemics you get increases in religiosity, people become more abstentious, they save money, they get risk averse and we’re seeing all of that now, just as we have for hundreds of years during epidemics.” Christakis explains.

But by 2024, he predicts that all of those trends will be reversed, with people being completely and entirely hedonistic in the way they live.

There will no doubt be elements of the Roaring Twenties in the coming months, but that will continue to build momentum as time goes on.

 

What will be different this time around?

While the Twenties experienced a defining breakthrough in modernity, McKinsey reported last year that we had “vaulted five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption, in a matter of around eight weeks”.

New virtual ways of working, digital adoption by the elderly and a boom in e-commerce has changed the playing field for how many of us live, work and shop. The arrival of 5G – which is just around the corner – will continue to transform society beyond recognition, ushering in a new dawn of connectivity.

And just as higher disposable incomes in the 1920s breathed life back into the economy, many are also emerging from the past year a little richer cash-wise (a collective $2 trillion more savings in the US and Europe), albeit a little crazier, probably a little plumper and a whole lot hairier.

Plus, with the stock market reaching record highs recently, it’s highly likely that we’ll start to see people spending more liberally and indulgently in what’s expected to be a $50 billion shopping spree.

I think it’s safe to say that billions of consumers across the globe are craving exciting, in-real-life experiences due to a serious lack of stimulus for the best part of a year. An eagerness to return to normality, coupled with this enticing surplus of money, creates a promising and exciting time for the retail industry, as brands gear up for a renewed period of opportunity and optimism.

With 508 million vaccinations now administered across the globe, promise of freedom around the corner and a worldwide, collective need for a good old-fashioned party, it’s hard not to imagine that we’ll all embrace life with the same euphoria and awe that they did in the 20s, and I personally can’t wait.

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