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The end of the year: 2020 vision and great expectations

by Sean Fleming

This has been a year like no other. At least, like no other year that I can remember. And as 2020 draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on this crazy, calamitous year. I know I’m not the only one doing that right now.

I took a look back over some of the things I had written in this column this year. I was amused to see that I started the year with a quote from the Nobel laureate Niels Bohr: "Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future."

No kidding, right?

At that point, there was no pandemic. The coronavirus was something we were all just hearing about and no one had used the term Covid-19 yet. In February, I wrote: “Someone coughs in a food market in Wuhan, the world’s major manufacturing, retail, and tech markets grind to a slow halt.”

But I also wrote that maybe the crisis would soon die down. Wishful thinking is a wonderful thing.

Soon, it was practically the only thing I was writing about and the only thing anyone was talking about. And then, around late April, I caught it. I was never seriously ill, and I am very grateful for that. But it took me two or three months to fully recover. I wouldn’t have predicted that.

As I write this column, which will be my last of 2020, there are less than three weeks left of the year. Even though predictions are impossible, it’s perfectly normal to wonder about the future. So, are a few things I think we can expect from 2021 – these are not quite predictions, they are expectations.

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Expectation 1: Welcome to the new disruption

Bringing the whole thing back to the point – the point of this column, I mean – there are other things I don’t expect to change. We’ve seen the explosion in ecommerce sales driven by the closures of physical stores. There have been permanent closures too.

There will be no back-to-normal for retailers. The shift online that has been underway for years has been accelerated. We’ve gone beyond any kind of meaningful tipping point. The combination of changed habits and closed outlets is a powerful one. For those retailers left standing, there will be a new fight for the hearts and minds of customers. 

Expectation 2: We’ll still be talking about Covid

A small number of countries, including my own, have already begun their Covid vaccination programmes. It’s an easy thing to predict, but I expect that 2021 will be dominated by the vaccine. There are still so many important questions though, so I cannot allow myself to be very optimistic about it right now.

For example, where will it be made? There are three pharmaceutical manufacturers with viable products I believe (that may have changed by the time you are reading this). They have facilities all over the world, of course. But are there enough to make the billions and billions of doses that will be needed? More importantly, how are we going to get it into the billions and billions of people who need it? Does the infrastructure exist? I truly have no idea.

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Expectation 3: There will be set-backs

There has been a lot of talk about everyone getting the vaccine in spring 2021. I think that’s highly unlikely purely because of the logistical challenges. And I worry what that will do to people’s morale. 

This past year has created huge amounts of stress and anxiety and a lot of folks have found their mental health under strain. If you are expecting that it will all be over by Easter, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Or should that be, expect the worst. 

I expect that the world will be a very different place by the end of 2021. Much of the uncertainty we currently face will have gone. That’s something we should all feel positive about. But we are on a long road to recovery. 

Stay safe. Stay resilient. Stay realistic. Remember, things have been tough but they won’t stay that way. 

Because this has been a year like no other. 

    
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