Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon: How the big four will influence the future of retail

Kelly Slessor

Shop You founder and CEO Kelly Slessor.

At a time when the world is suffering and retail is facing one of its most challenging periods, the big four — Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple — continue to dominate.

In fact, earning announcements from the big four show how protected these tech companies are from the downturn.

While shopping centres have seen billions wiped off their bottom lines, and the number of retailers facing bankruptcy continues to increase, these companies continue to experience growth in the retail space.

Amazon

Amazon saw net sales increase by 40% year-on-year to US$88.9 billion in Q2 2020, driven largely by the increase in online shopping.

As foot traffic declined, consumer spending on Amazon rose by 35%.

Amazon has focussed heavily on grocery shopping in the US, seeing this as an opportunity long before COVID-19, but is now capitalising on the shift that the pandemic has caused.

It has announced it is adding Amazon Fresh to its monthly Prime subscription service, which it intends to expand across the UK during 2020, and no doubt will hit the Australian shores at some point next year.

Amazon is also rumoured to be in talks with Simon Property Group (a shopping centre operator in the US). The partnership would enable Amazon to use large empty stores as fulfilment centres.

This could be an interesting opportunity for retailers located in the centre, allowing them to tap into Amazon’s fulfilment solutions and ship products more easily and faster.

It does, however, bring the disadvantage of increased competition, as Amazon could then supply a greater range of brands and products locally.

The fear for retailers will be in Amazon’s ability to offer a greater breadth of products, at cheaper prices, thus increasing competition.

Google

Google recently announced several initiatives which it believes could help SMEs generate billions of dollars in e-commerce sales.

These include free shopping ad listings and Google search listings, as well as Shoploop, a product video platform (also described as ‘TikTok for shopping’).

In the retail arena, it is clear that Google search is under threat, as an increasing number of shopping searches start at Amazon.

Google, however, has a holistic view of the customer that Amazon doesn’t have.

Google understands the journey and intent often before a customer even decides to purchase, and many who leverage Google believe they are in the best place to connect the physical and online journey.

Facebook

Some would say Facebook has been quite slow to make it to the shopping party.

In May, in response to COVID-19, and to help with economic recovery, Facebook announced its ‘Shops’ marketplace, allowing customers to set up a free storefront.

Instagram, on the other hand, has been playing in this space for some time, but has struggled to seamlessly connect the customer experience.

It recently announced the rollout of its newly designed shopping page to users in the United States.

Instagram Shops is designed to make the experience of discovering and purchasing new products a seamless experience, where users can browse, view personalised recommendations, and check out directly in the app.

Apple

Apple’s revenues jumped 11% year-on-year to US$59.7 billion between April and June, with non-US sales accounting for 60% of the quarter’s revenue.

Apple seems to be content with taking a slice of everyone else’s pie rather than owning the customer journey — although, recently the size of this slice (fees of up to 30%) has been up for increased debate.

Apple is in a really interesting position compared to Google and Facebook, as it, along with Amazon, has the knowledge and insight of the physical and online store connection. Both understand the physical and digital connection that is critical to retail.

Apple recently partnered with Burberry to develop a messaging system for luxury clients. Along with its payment’s solution, it has the potential to white label its technology to provide other retailers with ‘the Apple experience’.

Alternatively, it could build its own e-commerce ecosystem.

What’s next?

The challenge for retailers and brands is understanding which platforms to invest in, and which one will give them the biggest return on investment, both now and in the next five to 10 years.

Taking advantage of Google search and its free shop listings is a huge opportunity for SMEs and should be a clear focus when available in Australia.

Partnering with Amazon to provide a superior fulfilment solution will enable brands to grow locally and globally.

And working with Instagram and Facebook to ensure customers can purchase directly on these platforms will reduce brand switching and cart abandonment.

In saying all of that, the problem we have is that the big four are trying to own the purchasing funnel, but in doing so, they are preventing customers from moving seamlessly from one platform to another, which causes friction and frustration.

In an attempt to own the customer, they are creating more silos.

Retailers that are already under a huge amount of pressure, are provided with too many channels and platforms to participate on, manage and control.

The future of retail may not be Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple. It may be a platform that can provide an end-to-end seamless experience connecting physical and online without conflict or fear of brand or price erosion.

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