Will the post-pandemic era be America’s next Roaring ‘20s?

Photo: @chara_stagram_ via Twenty20
Mar 01, 2021

On L’Oréal’s recent quarterly call, Jean-Paul Agon, CEO, predicted that once the pandemic subsides, a “Roaring ‘20s” boom will deliver huge upside for the beauty category.

“When the COVID [is] gone, people will be happy to go out again, to celebrate, to socialize and this will be like in the famous Roaring ‘20s,” he said. “This will be the fiesta of makeup and fragrances.”

The Roaring ‘20s refers to the period of economic prosperity and creative and cultural renaissance Western society experienced in the wake of World War I and the 1918 flu pandemic.

At the least, some see the huge pent-up demand to socialize benefiting hotels, casinos, cruise ships and restaurants. Hasbro’s CEO Brian Goldner believes a rush back to theaters will boost toy franchises tied to movie releases. He recently told The Wall Street Journal, “I think you’re going to see a Roaring ‘20s kind of snap back,” he said.

Categories such as beauty and fashion that support socializing are expected to likewise rebound strongly.

“We are in that limbo right now — waiting for life to start up again, waiting for that black and white moment to burst into full color,” American designer Anna Sui recently told the Financial Times. “Everyone is feeling that same way, all this pent-up creativity and energy. It’s going to be like the Roaring ’20s.”

More boldly, some see enough parallels to last century’s era to predict a period of economic prosperity. Similar to the arrival of electrification, the internal combustion engine and the assembly line a century ago, the accelerated adoption of technologies such as videoconferencing, e-commerce, artificial intelligence and cloud computing may drive hyper-growth in the years ahead.

In December, UCLA economists predicted “a gloomy COVID winter and an exuberant vaccine spring,” followed by an economic surge that would deliver robust growth at least through 2023.

“Right now, we are experiencing the artificial intelligence revolution and this revolution will accelerate the pace of technological change to levels that we have not seen before,” Max Fraser, a history professor at the University of Miami, recently told his university’s local e-magazine.  “The change that is coming will dwarf the 1920s.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What parallels do you see between the Roaring ‘20s of the twentieth century and the current decade? Do you expect to see a period of economic prosperity and cultural upheaval reminiscent of that time in history?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"I think the years ahead will be the best of times and the worst of times."
"Societies are always ready to break out the bubbly after a prolonged constraining event like world wars or pandemics. We will definitely see some of that."
"Consumers will have many choices in how to shop post-COVID. I see a period of technological adaption that retailers need to plan for NOW."

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18 Comments on "Will the post-pandemic era be America’s next Roaring ‘20s?"

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Ben Ball

Societies are always ready to break out the bubbly after a prolonged constraining event like world wars or pandemics. We will definitely see some of that. The thing for retailers to remember is not to get ahead of their skis in terms of capital investment and expansion. We already were overstored and the pandemic’s acceleration of online shopping will not subside. Also, all of our “cycles” — economic in particular — seem to be compressed in terms of duration as our ability to shift direction is increased. This particular bottle of bubbly might go flat pretty quickly.

Neil Saunders

I think the years ahead will be the best of times and the worst of times.

The best of times because the economy will rebound, at least over the medium term. There will be a resurgence in spending as society is unlocked. There is also an enormous amount of creativity from smaller brands and retailers, including those powered by Gen Z consumers. The years ahead will be exciting and innovative.

However it will also be the worst of times. Not all consumer segments will participate in the resurgence. The pandemic has financially scarred many households and some will be locked out of prosperity. Similarly, some traditional retailers and places of consumption will suffer as new shopping habits emerge and the sector continues to evolve.

Overall things will be better than they were during the depths of lockdown, but let’s not assume that all problems in retail and the consumer economy will be swept away on a tide of exuberance.

Cathy Hotka

The asceticism of 2020 and 2021 means that 2022 is going to be one huge party.

Dick Seesel

There will likely be an economic recovery as the post-pandemic world returns slowly to ordinary life — traveling, going to the mall, dining out, and so forth. But I’m not sure about comparing it to the upheaval of the 1920s — a reaction not only to World War I and the end of the pandemic but also to the moralistic strictures of Prohibition. Widespread adaptation of technology also led to the first true era of modernity.

I’m no economist (or soothsayer), but I see the 2020s as a period of more incremental change, and with more normal economic cycles. As Peggy Noonan wrote in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, our great urban centers like New York may feel the economic hangover of “work from home” dislocation for years to come, even if consumer behavior returns to normal.

Dick Seesel

Two more fun facts about 1920 and the pile-up of social change: First (thanks to DeAnn for the reminder), women won the right to vote. Second, America’s population became more urban than rural for the first time in 1920. I’m not sure the country has ever seen so many changes happening in such a short window … even for us Baby Boomers who think everything starts and ends in the 1960s.

Georganne Bender

I agree with designer Anna Sui, we are in a kind of limbo right now. We can’t wait to do the little things we all took for granted: seeing friends, going to a movie, leisurely shopping, and dressing up again. I don’t know about you but I am so over sweatpants.

Christine Russo
About economic prosperity and cultural upheaval: There is pent up demand in certain sectors like travel, gatherings, and theme parks. The companies that have been held back and not allowed to open will see huge gains. Makeup had been on a tear before COVID-19, remained vibrant during COVID-19 and will continue on a huge growth trajectory because it’s where young creatives have low barriers to entry and can express themselves to their tribes. This creativity used to funnel through the apparel industry. Now, apparel is a rich man’s game and there won’t be as big of an unleashing post COVID-19. Most fashion dollars, in the younger generation, come through repurposed clothing styles customers do their own unique way. For event dressing and corporate in-person meetings/conferences/speeches/events there will be a surge in expanding a person’s closet. Whether they go back to traditional clothing ownership or turn to rental packages remains to be seen. Cultural upheaval has already started and will definitely continue. New governmental leaders and localized activity will create changes in city living, opportunities and… Read more »
DeAnn Campbell

I think we’ll see a burst of exuberance and spending from early summer through Christmas, but unlike the ’20s, we still have long-term economic and employment uncertainty hanging over us that will temper our spending. The Roaring ’20s were the start of some big trends – city living, the birth of the “chain store,” economic growth and women gaining the vote. There were a lot of newfound freedoms and a plethora of new low priced products on the market thanks to the emergence of mass production – all reasons to party like it’s 1929. Today’s trends, fueled by Gen Z, are taking us back toward product personalization, local retail, more conservative spending and concern about the environmental impact of mass production – more Sunday BBQ than Frat Party.

Bob Phibbs

I’ve been saying this for about six months. It is going to be a great 18-24 months but there could be a hangover after that with so many brands kidding themselves that it is all due to their better understanding of the consumer, rather than the huge tailwind lifting so many.

Gene Detroyer

The coming out party will be brilliant, but the question is “how long will it last?”

Has the pandemic taught us about things we once thought that were “needs” that we now find were wasteful pleasures? Have our priorities changed on what is important in life and do we believe those things demand less spending than we used to do? Will an economy based on consumer debt be reigned in by changes in culture? How about population growth? Today it is less than half the rate it was pre-1920s.

And should we not forget that the “Roaring Twenties” ended with the Great Depression?

Ben Ball

Gene! It was already Monday. Did you have to include that last line? 🙂

Shep Hyken

They say (whoever they are), “History repeats itself.” I’m optimistic about the boom that will occur after the pandemic. That said, I’m not sure it will be a roar for everyone. Plenty of industries weren’t hurt – and in many cases saw some growth. The entertainment and hospitality industries should get ready for a roar. Traditional retail – especially in the malls – was struggling prior to the pandemic. The reinvention of retail, combing in-store and digital, creating more personalized connections and developing better experiences, will help some of the struggling retailers. Overall, I expect to see “economic prosperity.”

Patricia Vekich Waldron

We’re in a K-shaped recovery. While a portion of the population will be ready to celebrate and spend an equal number will still be struggling.

1 year 4 months ago

All any of us have is the mere intellectual ability to assume that, based on the obvious, things will soon get better and lots of coffers will fill once again. Plus, isn’t it too overly optimistic to predict prosperous times further than what would be, inarguably, the resurgence of some (but not all) commercial endeavors this coming Summer, and, likely, the year ahead?

So instead, let’s hear it for the Murmurings of Late-2021; then perhaps a Qualified Roaring 2022 –accompanied by, hopefully, a number of Amens! Why? Because as surely as anything proffered here, there are many parts to our society as a whole which need some reckoning with, if there is to be true prosperity for all in the years and decades to come. And keeping in mind all the party metaphors: remember that the bigger, louder, more resource-taking, and undisciplined revelry engaged in the night before portends the greater and graver the hangover the morning after. So be careful what you wish for (and be a giver over a taker).

Brandon Rael

There have been clear winners and losers during the pandemic, which will continue to be the situation in a post-pandemic world. We should expect a post-pandemic commerce world fueled by the innovations, creativity, and digital everything experiences to help drive forward the economy.

Some of the most prominent innovative companies surfaced in a post-financial crisis world, including WeWork, Airbnb, Instagram, and others. Historically some of the most innovative companies and economic shifts have come out of the prior pandemics and crises. We should expect an economic uplift from the explosion of creativity and innovations surfacing this time around.

We should, however, take a very conservative view on the next ten years being the new roaring 20s. Millions of families have been disenfranchised during the crisis and have had their lives and livelihoods disrupted. We should expect plenty of growth but plenty of economic recovery over the next few years.

Craig Sundstrom

Cuz we should all take our economic cues from a cosmetics company … right?

And their history is more than a little revisionist: actually there was a steep — albeit short — depression first, England and Germany floundered throughout much of the decade, and of course the ’20s gave way eventually to the ’30s … enough said.

But history seldom, if ever repeats itself. We have plenty of clues about the (many) challenges ahead without having to turn to naive comparisons.

Karen S. Herman

COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on consumers. One is economic, with a widening income gap that is leading to dual growth in discount shopping and luxury spending. And another is technological empowerment. Today’s consumers like grab-and-go, scan-and-go, curbside pickup and frictionless checkout, for starters. They’re also exploring mobile apps with AR to try cosmetics and Virtual Stores to buy products in the real and virtual worlds. Consumers will have many choices in how to shop post-COVID. I see a period of technological adaption that retailers need to plan for NOW.

Ricardo Belmar

Is there pent-up demand to do all the things we’ve been unable to do in the pandemic? Yes. Will there be an explosive reaction to partake (and spend) on all of those “long-lost” activities and “things”? Absolutely. The question is, how long will it last, and will it include everyone?

For the first part of that question, it’s very hard to say. We still don’t know the long-term implications of changing habits from the pandemic as far as retail and shopping are concerned. It’s easy to say ecommerce gains will remain, but how much of that was out of forced necessity rather than desire by shoppers? We can safely say travel and entertainment industries will once again prosper — doesn’t everyone want to go back to the movies?

That said, so far we’ve seen a K-shaped recovery that is only amplifying the differences between the haves and have nots. Still too soon to see if that expected explosion of prosperity will either further amplify the divide or close the gap.

"I think the years ahead will be the best of times and the worst of times."
"Societies are always ready to break out the bubbly after a prolonged constraining event like world wars or pandemics. We will definitely see some of that."
"Consumers will have many choices in how to shop post-COVID. I see a period of technological adaption that retailers need to plan for NOW."

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