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Asian countries most sanguine about their economies: PwC study

ASIAN countries were the most optimistic about the state of their economies this year and for the next few years, based on consistent gross domestic product (GDP) growth in China and several emerging economies in Asia, said a survey by professional services provider PwC.

The top four countries - the Philippines, Indonesia, China and Vietnam - all said that their economies will perform better in 2018 than the previous year.

Globally, consumers are feeling increasingly upbeat about the overall health of their countries' economies, the study found.

This year's edition of PwC's Global Consumer Insights survey reached out to more than 22,000 consumers across 27 countries.

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One-third of consumers said that the economy will perform better than the previous year, while 41 per cent said that performance will stay the same. Some 21 per cent believe the economy will be worse in 2018.

The sunny sentiment runs contrary to the International Monetary Fund's forecast of sub-4 per cent growth in global GDP through 2022.

Despite the prospect of having no real uptick in global GDP, PwC said, consumers are nonetheless "decidedly upbeat about their national economy, as well as their ability to thrive within it".

The study found that consumers are also cognisant of factors which could potentially hit their pockets, citing fuel and petrol prices, economic recession, inflation - and to a lesser extent trade protectionism and global terror threats - as the top five sources of unease.

Surveying Singaporeans' grocery shopping habits, PwC revealed that one quarter of Singaporeans said that they would likely purchase groceries online within the next 12 months.

The survey also looked at changing consumer buying behaviour in e-commerce, which it noted accounts for one-tenth of worldwide retail sales.

PwC noted that it has seen increases in weekly brick-and-mortar shoppers, and that shopping is "not falling out of favour as an activity", as seen from physical retailers' strong showing in the 2017 holiday season.

On the back of strong economic sentiments, consumers are also increasingly embracing the use of artificial intelligence (AI) voice assistant devices such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home for e-commerce. Consumers can use such devices to replenish household goods and supplies just by using their voice.

In spite of the technology's infancy, PwC's global leader of artificial intelligence Anand Rao sees it as a "healthy sign" that nearly one in three consumers said they planned on buying an AI device.

"As it stands now, personal assistants are still relatively primitive - they can understand single commands but not context and patterns of behaviour," Mr Rao said, adding that he sees a boost in their capabilities in the next three to five years.

Again, Asian consumers are tops when it comes to adopting AI devices for shopping.

In China's consumer market, more than one in five respondents already own an AI device and more than half plan to buy one.

Similarly in Vietnam, some 19 per cent already own a device, and 45 per cent surveyed said that they planned on getting one, as do Indonesians (18 per cent own one, 49 per cent plan to), and Thailand (15 per cent own one with 44 per cent planning to).

The high demand for AI devices among Asian consumers "reflects their preference for voice interaction with electronics, as well as lower levels of concern about online privacy and security", said PwC, contrasting with lower demand in developed markets such as France, the US and the UK.

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