That is the title of one of the greatest articles ever written about digital revolution four years ago to Wired. The main points about that brilliant piece are still valid, although speed of mobile revolution surprised many of the players for a while. The main idea of the story is that web starts to resemble more and more traditional industry with handful of players. Web is oligopoly and certain verticals almost resemble monopolies.
If you simplify the consumer-facing web business (so I am excluding infrastructure and other boring things which is where the real money is), it is about three things: products, commerce & advertising. Products enable you to connect to the Internet: smartphones, computers, watches, television sets, fridges and whatnot. Commerce is about being able to buy things from Internet and advertising is what it is: bombarding you with messages to buy more stuff.
Product category as we know it will eventually be commoditized. If you want to remain premium, you have to innovate constantly. That is the only way to remain luxury brand in this realm. Cheap smartphones will eventually beat the premium ones. In the future you are able to connect to Internet in whatever device and you do not really have to pay that much of that privilege.
Where the growth will come? Wearables can be the future winner product category, although they have not really yet taken off. The changes are rapid though. iPad was launched only four years ago, created totally new category and is currently at risk of vanishing because of the phablets. So is the life.
Current champions: Apple, Samsung
Challengers: Xiaomi and other cheap manufacturers
Disrupters: Luxury brands (Would connectivity enhance Rolex? I say not, but I might be wrong as well)
Commerce will become even bigger and you are able to buy pretty much everything online. Will all the physical retail vanish? Not necessarily, but the point is not about that. It is about that you are able to buy everything online, and majority of people will do exactly that, because it is more convenient and affordable.
Commerce is the biggest opportunity and a space I follow most closely. Strong brands will definitely start to create their own online retail experiences, which would enable them to bypass the more traditional retail channels. In the next decade there will be lots of turmoil in this category and many big players will fall and new challengers will arise. Biggest challenges are not that much about technology (lots of payment innovations happening), but about logistics.
Second interesting point is that idea of commerce has changed with shared economy. Both Uber and AirBnB are selling physical service, which would not be possible without digital channel. How far collaborative economy can be stretched remains to be seen. It can potentially be really big disruptor to the way we do business in general.
Last point about commerce is the ecosystem approach. Apple makes money constantly through App Store by enabling others to make money. Facebook is building app ecosystem with the acquisition of Instagram, WhatsApp and Parse. Both Amazon and Alibaba are enabling developers to build things on their platform.
Current Champions: Amazon, AliBaba, Ebay
Challengers: Google, Facebook, WeChat, Line, Apple (Apple Pay)
Disrupters: Brands, FMCG brands, Collaborative economy players (Uber, Airbnb…)
Advertising will be important, because people will keep on buying stuff. Stuff makes us happy. More stuff makes us even happier. How are you able to buy that stuff if you do not know that it exists?
Will advertising become smarter in the future? Yes and no. In last decade or so, we have had one revolutionary advertising idea. That is SEM. You show people ads when they actually want to see ads. Contextual advertising and retargeting have been nice inventions, but mainly advertising is still based on interruption (some of it being more relevant like app install ads). One of the most innovative companies in the world, Facebook, makes most of its money by interrupting its users in various ways.
The advertising business is relatively simple: it is all about reach. All of the most successful advertising platforms are based on firstly to reach and then secondly the quality of those who you are reaching. That is unlikely to change. However, the biggest task is to try to narrow the gap between the interruption (advertising) and purchase (commerce). The monetary exchange is the only tangible KPI we have and less you have to travel to do it, the better.
Current Champions: Google, Facebook
Challengers: WeChat, Line, Twitter (was tempted to leave it out completely, but I give it a shot still), “Traditional media companies”(although I do not really have high hopes for their complete digital transformation, but they will remain influential on this space as well)
Disrupters: Amazon (the closer you are to the actual transaction, the less you have to interrupt), Content owners (although none of them has done any major moves and have mainly milked the status quo)
The lines are naturally blurry. The quote from Eric Schmidt summarizes the whole situation:
“ Many people think our main competition is Bing or Yahoo. But, really, our biggest search competitor is Amazon. People don’t think of Amazon as search, but if you are looking for something to buy, you are more often than not looking for it on Amazon.”
That is also the reason why these big companies are testing weird things and buying obscure companies. Internet has made it easier to disrupt a category and also connect categories in new way. Facebook & Google test drones, so it can bring Internet the people who don´t have it yet. Thus increasing the reach. Amazon tests drones, because shipping is the biggest bottleneck of eCommerce. When your business can start to flourish rapidly, it can also vanish rapidly. There is no time to sleep, because sleep is the cousin of death.
What do you think, who will become the master of the Internet universe?