The 2010s brought a lot of changes. To name a few: the popularization of dating apps with all their swiping, the disintegration of classic retail chains, the break-through of bitcoin and smart contracts, the rise of marketplaces, professionalization of cloud computing, an FEV – the Tesla Model 3 – being the single most sold car in The Netherlands of 2019, and consumer streaming services like Netflix and Spotify that are redefining the complete entertainment industry.
What trends do I expect to impact us in the 2020s, relevant for e-commerce or the market as a whole?
A no brainer, and will continue to be true for decades to come: classic retail, with its expensive physical stores networks, will relentlessly suffer from e-commerce. High-end classic stores that are in the high-street, that continue to offer the Harrods-type of exclusive fun shopping experience, will continue to thrive. But, only in places with a lot of traffic: touristic hotspots. Other chains that are in high-traffic areas such as stations, airports, business centers, and other places where people still go to for fun, work or education, will be able to survive, but will also need to shift focus. For many of such classic stores, serving food and drinks has become a major part of the business model. One that is not easily cannibalized by online formats as people still want to meet each other in person.
Nevertheless, fresh food will be more and more delivered through e-commerce as well. And AliExpress shows that also budget chains are no longer safe from the woes of online competition.
Hardly any classic retail formula has been successful in the transformation towards e-commerce because of the clash in business models and cultures. Omnichannel is dead. Still, it’s important to be successful in online, reduce the physical footprint to high traffic locations only, and it might be a good idea to sell one’s branded products through 3rd party marketplaces as well.
Platformification is redefining every service industry. In the e-commerce industry, big brands, like Amazon and Alibaba, are increasingly opening up their environments to support any seller or service provider. Vendors benefit from the brand power, infrastructure and other economy of scale advantages that the e-commerce begemoths have harnessed. Governments will increase their monitoring of unfair business practices, and thus force a further opening up of such dominant platforms.
Platformification is also influencing the product information management (PIM) niche, where cloud platforms will dominate at the expense of isolated software solutions or data pools. PIM will become PIMS as content Syndication becomes a necessary ingredient of every PIM, and every syndicator network needs a PIM or Vendor Central to power its environment.
Central banks will support or create crypto tokens that are pegged to their fiat currency, so-called stablecoins. The European Central Bank will create or regulate stablecoins that are pegged to the euro. China will create one that is pegged to the renminbi. Etc. Etc. This will make online payments very easy, while preserving the stability of the established financial systems through increased know your customer (kyc) checks. Every citizen will get a crypto wallet. And the share of crypto payments will become bigger than those of more traditional payment methods. The time for expensive charges by credit card societies and payment service providers for facilitating simple transactions is finally over. Potentially such a regulated infrastructure would also allow for smart contracts and fintechs can provide such value add services to businesses or consumers.
Loyalty concepts are successful in classic retail and in services. Think of airmiles, saving stamps, discount coupons etc. Online, points and other reward tokens can be seen a lot in gaming, but apart from memberships, less in e-commerce. The increasing scalability of DLT or blockchain platforms, makes it every day more realistic to use such distributed ledger concepts for loyalty concepts as well. For this reason, Icecat is experimenting with the ICURY as a loyalty token, and distributes them through airdrops, and witnessed it becoming a liquid digital asset. I believe that in the coming years, loyalty tokens will be used as an integral part of standard e-commerce transactions.
In the 2020s, Full Electrical Vehicles (FEVs), with or without self-driving features, will be on top of the sales charts. After diesel, other fossil fuel cars will be banned as well. Central and local energy storage facilities will help optimize the grid. It’s to be seen if hydrogen cars can form an alternative, as they lack distribution infrastructure and can’t compete with the ubiquitous electricity grid. Traditional oil and gas giants, need to go green quickly or will loose their value completely.
Experiments with hybrid, flying vehicles will lead to products that are enjoyed only by a few innovators, who can bypass traffic jams and have a sense of freedom. Governments will require them to be electrical as well.
Electrical planes will become commercially viable as well, especially for short distances. Early adopters embrace electrical trucks.
Space travel, dirty as ever, will still be limited to short trips for the happy few. Unmanned expeditions to the Moon and Mars and other planets will be expanded.
The past decade saw a lot of research into the field of longevity, and the understanding of factors that accelerate or decelerate aging has deepened. The understanding will deepen further and lead to consumer products that are scientifically effective with regard to anti-aging, fixing DNA vulnerabilities, healing cancer and monitoring. It will lead to a further increased life expectancy of people that want to enjoy it. At the same time, there might be unwanted side-effects, and not everyone has or wants access to anti-aging therapies. Despite the ethical debates, it’s inevitable that people will make use of the longevity options that are at hand. Over time, the population composition will age further, especially in the developed countries.
More and more processes will become autonomous as the cost of sensors, IoT (internet of things) and processors continue to go down. Self-driving cars will increasingly make drivers superfluous, and we can do other things when going from A to B. Also in industry, smart processes will continue to replace human labour, and production can be cost-effectively re-located close to buyer markets. IoT will make our society even more vulnerable for malevolent hackers: criminals, spies or terrorist. Digital defenses against online threats require even bigger security budgets, and will be an integral part of the design of the increasingly vast number of smart (IoT) products. Humanoids (or androids) will still be more of a toy or show thing than handy in daily life.
Research has already identified a lot of the parameters that influence our climate. Techniques to limit or reverse the effects of greenhouse gases will be put to work and show result. It will be a wide range of solutions: solar power in sunny regions, large-scale wind power on sea, light reflecting chemicals in the atmosphere, applying nuclear fusion, biodiesel from DNA-altered algae or other plants, CO2 absorption and storage, planting of a trillion new trees, desalification of seawater for irrigating deserts, artifical meat or vegan meat replacements, etc. etc. The use of fossil fuels will drop steeply. Thanks to vertical gardening the yields per m2 increase sharply, while more agricultural lands can be returned to nature.
3D printing is not something that every household is investing in. There are just too many different types of ingredients and related printer types. But, logistically, it can save a lot in distribution costs to print simple products or spare parts locally, on-demand. Delivery is then only needed for “the last mile”: to the home or the local business. 3D-printing-as-a-logistical-concept will change the way that we look at products: we will see them more and more as licensed models, that are patented or copyrighted. Consumers will buy a license, can adapt the model to their wishes, and ask a local printer to create and deliver the products.
The tape recorder is said to have played a big role in the disappearance of the iron curtain in Europe in the 80s. The internet played a role in the democratization of – for example – Indonesia, in the 90s. Social media played – for example – a role in the arabic “spring” uprisings in the 2010s. It might well be that decentralized cryptos and other decentralized apps and technologies, will lead to the erosion of the last all-powerful dictatorships as they loose control over capital outflux, and the way people interact with each other. The roll-out of Big Brother surveillance techniques and state cryptos will have a reverse effect on their peoples.
Of course, predictions are often just extrapolations of trends of the past, and sudden revolutions are typically overlooked. I am sure to be guilty as well. Therefore, I am curious to witness the unexpected that inevitably accompanies the expected!
Read further: News, 3d printing, climate, crypto money, democracy, EVs, longevity, loyalty, platform, retail, robots
Founder and CEO of Icecat NV. Investor through iMerge. PhD Multimedia at Delft University of Technology. Former Professor at Open University Netherlands/Technical Sciences & Environment.
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