Business in 2018: A Review

As we begin to look forward at what the new year will bring, it is important to also take a moment to reflect on the year gone by and what it has meant for business, both in the UK and on a global scale. Much has happened in the UK, including the continued decline of the high street and the uncertainty around Brexit hanging over the country.

However, it is not all doom and gloom, with trends indicating that, as technology becomes more advanced, it is the human connection that we value over all else. Read on for some of the top business stories of 2018 and a small glimpse into what 2019 may hold.

UK and EU news stories from 2018

The UK’s once flourishing high street is in a steep decline that not even its most robust and established brands are immune from.

Reports after Christmas also showed that Marks & Spencer, House of Fraser and Debenhams had all suffered over the festive period. This was further confirmed when in May, Marks & Spencer announced it would close 100 stores by 2022, while Debenhams said it would also be closing roughly a third and House of Fraser half of its outlets.

So, what does this mean in practical terms? According to The Guardian, ‘A total of more than 35,000 retail and restaurant jobs have either been lost or at risk.’ The Christmas period is always an indicator of high street retailers’ viability and, although the numbers are yet to come in for 2018, it looks like more worrisome news for the industry.

In the world of retail, it was revealed in April that Sainsbury’s and Asda were in merger talks, which was described by one analyst as a ‘game changer in the UK grocery market of epic proportions’. Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley bought House of Fraser claiming that would make it ‘the Harrods of the High Street’.

Finally, no reflection on 2018 could be complete without mentioning Brexit. The future of the UK leaving the European Union is still very much up in the air but it continues to affect the economy. In November, a government analysis suggested that the UK economy could reduce up to 3.9% under Theresa May’s Brexit deal, compared to remaining in the EU. However, a no-deal Brexit could be even worse at 9.3% smaller.

Global new stories from 2018

Taking a brief look at America and the rest of the world in 2018, the most significant business story was the trade war between China and the US. This March, the US placed tariffs on $60bn worth of Chinese goods, which in turn caused setbacks to the Chinese and global economy. China retaliated in September by establishing some of their own on $60bn of US goods including liquefied natural gas. This has affected numerous businesses in not only both the US and China, but any company engaged in the trading of goods affected by the sanctions. The business community hope the dispute can be resolved in 2019.

Cambridge Analytica dominated the headlines early in the year when it was revealed that they had accessed data from 50 million Facebook users during the 2016 US presidential campaign without the users’ permission. Facebook CEO and Founder, Mark Zuckerberg was then forced to accept responsibility and apologise before congress. This has hit Facebook’s stock value as well as thrown data protection into the forefront of organisation’s concerns.

Business trends in 2019

Business trends are often hard to pin down as businesses themselves are constantly adapting to changes in both the social and economic climate. However, reflecting upon 2018, some key themes emerged that seem to have taken root and will continue on into 2019.

Customer service

User experience is something that has been prioritised over the last year or so, placing the customer firmly at the heart of both marketing and service. Bigger, more impersonal companies are fast losing out to smaller start-ups who engage with their client-base and, even as technology and AI improves, genuine relationships and the human touch are proving irreplaceable.

Technology and cybersecurity

The term ‘blockchain’ was once purely associated with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. These days, it has more to do with cybersecurity, transparent data storage and the everyday operations of major companies. You can read more about blockchain and its many uses here – expect to see them discussed and implemented throughout the business world in 2019, too.

Marketing and personalisation

Marketers are abandoning the funnel and opting for a more consumer-focused approach with added personalisation and high-value content. Businesses who haven’t already are also having to consider implementing user reviews, as most consumers these days are unwilling to part with their hard-earned money for something that hasn’t been vouched for by another customer.

Data regulation

2018 was the year of GDPR. Before it was instituted, there were worries that the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation would result in Y2K-style pandemonium, causing companies to collapse and the economy to founder. This was not the case, as we went into in our 2018 Marketing Review. Although some companies have been fined or are under investigation and many have lost considerable amounts of the data they had collected over the years, most emerged unscathed into an environment where the gathering and use of personal data is more controlled. However, the impacts of GDPR will become clearer in 2019 as cases begin to be investigated.

Remote working

Happiness at work never used to be a priority for bosses or employees; these days, it is a huge factor in retaining good employees and ‘company culture’ has become a common business watchword. Part of this is allowing people the freedom to work from home or even other countries, which is further enabled by ever-improving technology such as video chat. Happiness has been shown to improve productivity, so it not only makes sense from a culture point of view, but also from a business one.

What’s next for the UK and Europe?

In the UK at least, the future of business will be partially governed by what happens with Brexit. There are several different predictions being made by experts all of which vary greatly based on different outcomes. You can read more about these in more depth here, but there are some more universal trends that seem to be emerging in the New Year.

Diversity

As we move into 2019, inclusion is no longer something that can be spoken about and not acted upon. The world is demanding more, and in the digital age, companies can no longer hide from public censure. Boy’s clubs can’t operate behind closed doors and tokenistic ‘diversity hiring’ will no longer be tolerated. Although obviously a positive move in terms of society, real inclusion will also profit businesses, adding diverse voices, opinions and creativity into the mix. Failure to keep up will likely end up costing companies dearly.

2018 in the UK saw more than 10,000 large firms providing details of their gender pay gap, with three-quarters of them paying men more than women. These statistics were undeniable and proof-positive of inequality in the workplace and you can read about them in more detail here. This report has given rise to a call for a similar investigation into the UK’s ethnicity pay gap, which may force companies to reveal this data publicly.

Artificial Intelligence

AI feels like the next frontier in business interaction. It can analyse huge amounts of data as well as answering questions in a fraction of the time it would take a person and, as a result, has massive potential for a wide range of businesses. However, it will be the augmentation of human capabilities rather than the invention of new ones that truly allow AI to shine. “The trend to watch is a rise in tools that make it easy for non-experts to participate in AI and analytics,” points out Cassie Kozyrkov, Chief Decision Scientist, Google.

What’s next globally?

Some of the most pressing news stories affecting businesses in 2019 are:

  • The trade war between the US and China
  • Slowing Chinese growth
  • The waste crisis means that innovations in waste management will be necessary
  • Whether we have reached ‘peak’ smartphone sales
  • Bitcoin will be a major player in the second phase of the cryptocurrency market
  • The imminent sand shortage will cause problems for the global construction industry
  • A credit crisis in the world’s emerging markets is on the horizon and will grow

If you would like to read our 2018 Marketing Review, you can do so here. If you want more information about studying at Northumbria University London, visit our website, or to view the courses available please visit our courses page.

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