Five ways online commerce is changing in 2016

Smartphone growth is slowing but voice recognition is on the up.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 08 Jun 2016

The annual Internet Trends report by Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins is packed full of useful facts for those interested in the way online business is changing. It’s mainly aimed at an American audience but gives a very thorough overview of what’s going on in ecommerce, online media and the broader tech industry. If you don’t fancy wading through 200+ pages of a Powerpoint presentation then here are a few key highlights.

Disruptors are ascending fast

Technology start-ups have been challenging big incumbents for decades but today’s bright young things are rising even faster than their predecessors. The Chinese ecommerce firm passed $50bn of gross merchandise value (total sales to date) within 11 years of launching, a feat that took Amazon 17 years. So it’s no wonder that big, old companies are splashing the cash on buying smaller rivals in the hope of staying relevant. In 2015 the total spent by non-tech companies on tech acquisitions hit $28bn, a 263% increase on 2012. 

Facebook and Google tighten their grip

Total online advertising spending is on the up – in the US it increased by 20% last year. You might think that’s good news for traditional media companies that have been struggling to squeeze as much cash out of online ads as they used to from those on TV and in newsprint. But most of the spoils are going to Google and Facebook, whose ad revenues grew by 18% and 59% respectively last year. Between them the two giants are raking in almost $40bn (£28bn) in ad spending, compared to less than $25bn for all other media companies put together.

Chat apps are growing and evolving

The likes of WhatsApp (now a Facebook subsidiary), China’s WeChat and Facebook’s own Messenger app are growing fast. But these aren’t just a frivolous means of communication for teenage gossip. Many have moved into financial services – allowing people to send cash to each other. And WeChat has launched an enterprise service to allow workers to communicate with each other. Facebook has experimented with allowing people to book an Uber taxi via its messenger app and the publisher Quartz has launched an app that delivers the news via the medium of chat.

Voice recognition is increasingly important

Find typing a search into Google a chore? You’re in luck because voice recognition is apparently on the up after the launch of Apple’s virtual assistant Siri (which spawned many an imitator) and Amazon’s Echo device (pictured). Voice is a more effective form of communicating with computers, the report reasons, because it is faster than typing and you can do it hands-free. But surely the biggest hurdle it has to overcome is social acceptability – people using speech recognition in public still attract awkward glances.

Smartphone growth is slowing

The rise of the smartphone helped spawn a million businesses and generate hundreds of billions of dollars worth of revenues over the last decade. As well as being a boon to manufacturers like Apple and Samsung, smartphones made possible the likes of Uber and Snapchat, and provided new revenue streams for Facebook and many others. While smartphone ownership soared by 21% globally last year, that’s significantly less than the 31% recorded in 2014. That suggests the market is maturing, which could be bad news for tech firms. Of course now they’re on the lookout for the next big thing. Only time will tell whether wearable technology or the internet of things can have the same impact.

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