WR President & CEO talks retail’s future in a post-pandemic economy

Mar 31, 2022
Written by WR Communications

A packed crowd greeted WR President & CEO Renée Sunde in Richland as she spoke to the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce about the future of retail after two long years of COVID-19 impacts on the retail industry.

“It was refreshing to step out of zoom to see a crowd of smiles and genuine interest as the retail industry strives to move beyond the challenges of the past several years while navigating the new hurdles ahead,” said WR President & CEO, Renée Sunde.

The Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, led by CEO Lori Matson, is now back in full swing as they hosted their 3rd in-person event at the Holiday Inn in Richland, Washington. Sunde talked about the pandemic’s impacts on the industry and why the 2021 holiday season was one for the history books, with taxable retail sales growth of just over 14% year over year nationally.

As the state’s indoor mask mandate has lifted and Washingtonians look to find a new normal, retailers have continued to see strong gains even into the first two months of the year. But, even with the strong performance of the first few months, the new year has brought a high degree of uncertainty for consumers and retailers alike.

As the federal reserve raises interest rates in an attempt to curb growing inflation, consumers are feeling the pinch not only at the gas pump but in their monthly expenses. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, amidst the highest inflation we have seen since 1982, consumer confidence has hit its 4th lowest mark in the past 5 years. This is hitting household purchasing power and restricting spending as retailers see thinner margins and, in some cases, lower sales volumes.

But even with the uncertainty and the anxiety surrounding the war in Ukraine, cautious optimism remains that consumer sentiment and shopping appetites will begin to return to near normal. We won’t likely see the gains of 2021, but recent forecasts from the National Retail Federation anticipate growth in 2022 to reach between 6%- 8%.

Representative Matt Boehnke, the prime sponsor of HB 2019, the retail workforce training bill drafted in part by WR, was also in the audience. The legislation speaks to the importance and impact of the retail industry on the state’s economy, representing $24 billion in wages and 42% of state tax collections. The bill acknowledges that 34% of retail employees are people of color, the industry is the 4th largest employer of immigrants and promotes retail workforce training opportunities for students, job seekers, and workers alike.

The passage of HB 2019 is an important first step in helping to build strategies that will connect training and pathways for retail opportunities throughout Washington State. WR was pleased to see the bill pass and move to the Governor for signing.