According to Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends Report for 2019, just over half the world’s population (3.8bn people) were internet users last year – up from 3.6 billion in 2017. Growth slowed to about 6% in 2018 because so many people have come online that new users are harder to come by. Sales of smartphones declined in 2018. 7 out of the top 10 most valuable companies are tech – (1) Microsoft, (2) Amazon, (3) Apple, (4) Alphabet, (6) Facebook, (7) Alibaba, (8) Tencent. Ecommerce represents 15% of retail sales although growth is slowing. Internet ad spending accelerated in the US, up 22% in 2018. Most of the spending is still on Google and Facebook, but companies like Amazon and Twitter are increasing their share. Some 62% of all digital display ad buying is for programmatic ads, which will continue to grow. Customer acquisition costs is going up. There are a number of problems ahead for targeted advertising, and privacy is becoming a bigger selling point. Europe’s GDPR impact and other regulations, as well as pushes for more privacy from hardware and software companies like Apple and Facebook, are changing the rules.
Americans are spending more time with digital media than ever: 6.3 hours a day in 2018, up 7% from the year before. Most of that growth is coming from mobile and other connected devices, while time spent on computers declines. People are also getting more concerned about time spent online, as more than 25% of US adults say they are constantly online. Images are becoming the means by which people communicate, as technology developments like faster wifi and better phone cameras have encouraged a surge in image sharing. More than 50% of Tweets now involve posts with images, video or other media.
Innovation at tech companies outside the US has remained robust. Popular areas include fulfillment, delivery, and payments. The number of interactive gamers worldwide grew 6% to 2.4bn people last year, as interactive games like Fortnite become the new social media for certain people.
In 2019 Q1, 87% of global web traffic was encrypted, up from 53% 3 years ago. But the internet will continue to challenge self- regulation. Getting rid of problematic content has become more difficult to weed out on a large scale, and the very nature of internet communication allows content to be amplified much more than before. Examples: 42% of US teens have experienced offensive name-calling online, terrorists are being radicalized on sites like YouTube, and social media has encouraged increased political polarization.
Meanwhile Bain and Company has come out with new research in the USA which shows that the rules of retail have fundamentally changed. Success in the industry used to hinge on being bigger than your immediate competitors. Leaders tended to enjoy higher profit margins. In US, grocery retailers with a powerful local market share historically achieved operating margins of 4% or more, while rivals in weaker positions earned a fraction of that. Now in the era of rising consumer demands and digital advances local leadership is only part of a winning formula. For a start, to create the distinctive products, seamless service levels and meaningful brands needed, retailers also have to excel at rapid innovation. They must master data analytics to understand and tempt customers who have become more demanding and harder to categorise. Analytics is core to attempts to win and retain traffic, both online and in-store.
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