Global economic and social uncertainty is a great source of opportunity for retailers, said top retail chiefs this week.

Bosses of Ikea, Carrefour and Liz Claiborne, speaking at the 2008 World Retail Congress in Barcelona, said retailers with robust and decisive strategies can find opportunities in a downturn.

Anders Dahlvig, president and CEO at IKEA Group, said: ‘The economic downturn is an opportunity not to be missed.’

He said that internally, it was an opportunity to create motivation for efficiency measures and to become more focused commercially.

He added that IKEA could also use the current market as an opportunity to distance itself from the competition and to continue to invest in expansion.

Retail landscape to change

Paul Charron, chairman of Liz Claiborne, said: ‘By the time the economy comes back, the US retail landscape is likely to have changed. The retailers that will thrive are those that successfully combine consumer understanding with retail operations.’

He added that retailers will need to be more in touch with their consumers and more decisive in their strategies.

Not business as usual

Jose Luis Duran, CEO of Carrefour, said: ‘This is no time for business as usual. Winning strategies will require the mobilisation of people, technology, partnerships and store networks.’

Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, said: ‘We’ve been through a classic example of panic following an extraordinary credit boom.'

Excess breeds collapse

Wolf defined the current economic situation as a ‘classic Minsky moment’ quoting US Hyman Minsky’s adage that 'Success breeds excess and excess breeds collapse.' He said that interest rates will remain low for the immediate future, the dollar is likely to remain weak, the inflationary market is structurally less favourable and that we were 'at the end of the period where America can act as the borrower and spender of last resort.'

Wolf added that a strong US recovery was unlikely before 2010 and that other developed countries remained vulnerable, but pointed out that while emerging markets should expect lower growth, this would be welcome where markets were overheating.