No sectors have been left untouched by technology, including commerce. Today, technology knows no borders and marketplaces span the entire globe.
Technology has blurred physical borders and the days when merchants were limited to localised shops with restricted business hours are gone – the global marketplace is now 24/7.
What’s more, global eCommerce is only set to grow, with sales predicted to reach $4 trillion by 2020. Today’s brands can reap the rewards if they can make the most of the right tech – so where should they be looking?
Mobile phones are leading the way in many markets. With more than five billion devices used across the globe, half of which are smartphones, this is by no means surprising.
Increased functionality and mobile-friendly eCommerce sites make it possible for consumers to search for, choose and order goods using their mobile phones. This is made even easier by new payment methods like mobile checkouts and e-wallets. As technology advances, eCommerce merchants are overcoming issues with cross-border payments, language barriers and shipping delays.
With the likelihood of a cashless society becoming increasingly certain, mobile payment systems are sure to become more commonplace, greatly assisting in cross-border transactions. It is now seen as vital for brands to begin adopting an omnichannel approach – offering their products online, in-store and on their devices.
As the functionality of new technologies continues to rise, so too does the amount of money eCommerce leaders are spending on it. In fact, the money being spent by dominant players active in global eCommerce is astounding. Amazon, for example, is investing $20 billion per year on technology, while Walmart is following suit with over $5 billion spent on eCommerce and technology.
These facts highlight the kind of money that established players are happy to spend in order to stay ahead of the curve. But where does all this money go?
Many companies are putting their faith in emerging technologies like voice, virtual assistants and natural language processing. We can see Amazon, for example, investing heavily into artificial intelligence, developing its Alexa assistant and buying up start-ups.
With the amount of money spent on eCommerce exceeding the turnover of entire sectors, it is clear that companies are placing more value in technology than ever before. While certain retailers have gone out of their way to make all channels deliver everything, others are adopting a more strategic approach in what they are offering customers.
The rise of blockchain and cryptocurrencies stands to greatly facilitate global payments between merchants, consumers and payment companies alike.
When these new technologies are brought to the mass market, we will be on the cusp of a new phase of global eCommerce.
The established players know this and have been jumping at the opportunity to act. For example, we are seeing Blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS) platforms arise with Amazon Managed Blockchain. Meanwhile, Facebook is in discussions with myriad financial firms and eCommerce companies to support a cryptocurrency payment service which is in development.
One of the most significant trends in eCommerce has been eliminating the middlemen. The likes of Amazon, eBay, Yandex and JD.com, have provided brands with new opportunities to reach global audiences with their products.
By bringing products to numerous marketplaces, companies can reach a consumer base spread across the world. Currently, these online marketplaces account for 50 per cent of retail sales worldwide. However, this figure could rise to two-thirds within a few years as the likes of Alibaba take advantage of new opportunities abroad.
After all, it is through these marketplaces that many shoppers begin searching for their products. Together, they can give brands valuable insights on their global audience and act as a trial for international expansion rather than jumping in head-first.
In order to protect themselves, brands should focus on creating a unique brand image and telling a story to make their products difficult to replicate on the market. If their proposition is a commodity, it won’t last long.
A smaller world
Even in today’s global marketplace, there are a few barriers to building an international eCommerce brand.
The internet is already enabling brands to diversify the tools, channels and platforms they use to reach global audiences. Now, new and emerging technologies are readily available and have simplified cross-border transactions, meaning more brands can create electronic storefronts to generate sales. Moreover, the logistical challenges traditionally associated with starting a global business are no more. As a result, smaller brands, which fail to cut through the noise at home, begin to shine abroad.
The eCommerce revolution has changed the face of every industry, creating new opportunities for businesses large and small if they know where to look. This means that the established players, who have been left unchallenged for so long, now have to be wary of emerging brands on the hunt for commerce supremacy.
Elliott Jacobs, EMEA Commerce Consulting Director, LiveArea