By Peter Evans
LONDON--Tesco PLC (TSCO.LN) Chief Executive Philip Clarke said Wednesday the "tectonic plates are shifting" in the retail industry as problems in the euro zone start to affect previously high-growth regions, forcing companies to adapt to new technology or risk losing competitiveness.
"We are in the first downturn of the digital age," Mr. Clarke said at the World Retail Congress in London.
He added that "consumption is weakening" in China, Thailand and South Korea--previously areas of rapid growth for Tesco--in the face of economic turmoil in Europe. "[These economies] are vulnerable to the crisis in the euro zone, as well as inflation caused by high commodity prices," he said.
Retailers have been hit especially hard by the worldwide economic downturn as consumers have reined in on non-essential spending in the face of falling real wages and fears over job security.
However, Mr. Clarke said digital technology--smartphones in particular--represented a lifeline for the retail industry in straightened times, offering new ways to personalize the shopping experience for customers.
"Digital technology gives us the opportunity for a warmer, more meaningful conversation with our customers, local communities, our colleagues and the suppliers we work with."
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