The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year was held virtually, with announcements revolving almost exclusively around the pandemic and addressing changing consumer needs. The evolving use of tech at home was a particular focus for brands as consumers are now demanding more of their homes than ever before.

Following a record 2020, ecommerce was a topic that garnered a lot of attention, with retailers emphasising the importance of a consumer centric 'digital first' strategy, accepting the fact that ecommerce is going to be bigger than it ever has been.

Amid increased tech use at home, moves to ban third-party cookies and impending regulatory changes to data collection in the US, the conversation around data and privacy was more prominent than ever before. First-party data is going to be more valuable, even if tracking restrictions limit what can be done with that data.

The US Department of Justice antitrust case against Google alleges an illegal monopoly in search and search advertising in their home and largest market.

The lawsuit targets Google's control of the Android mobile operating system and exclusive revenue share agreement with Apple, which the EU prohibited in 2018, a decision that Google has appealed.

Alongside antitrust enforcement, legislative initiatives in the EU and UK will create an ex ante antitrust framework for relations between “gatekeeper” platforms and their users and customers, which the US Congress has yet to emulate.

On 1 October, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced $1 billion for worldwide news publisher partnerships for a novel News Showcase product, helping them to distribute their content to a new audience.

It is an important milestone: for the first time Google will pay publishers to curate content in the Google News app (initially), and to provide unpaywalled access to articles on publishers’ websites that users can click through to.

In so doing, Google is defusing the simmering conflict with publishers in major markets, and showing policy-makers its willingness to collaborate with a news industry facing existential threats.

 

The launch of new games consoles this week showcases broadly divergent strategies for Sony and Microsoft, with market leader PlayStation focused solely on defending its model against the rising tide of cheaper subscription games services.

Xbox's consumer offer is the best value proposition for these difficult economic times, attracting new customers and positioning for growth, and stopping slavish devotion to 'core gamers' in the process.

Amazon's Luna lands, providing big competition in game streaming services for Google's Stadia. But nobody is taking any notice, as neither provide a real breakthrough for the industry or great value for gamers. Stadia’s lifespan could be limited.

GDP growth slowed in August (+2.1%) from July (+6.4%), despite the boost to the hospitality sector from Eat Out to Help Out, while work from home (WFH) guidance remained in place for professional services.

WFH is providing resilience to B2B service verticals, thanks to the UK’s digital capabilities, while decimating B2C businesses, whose resilience is threatened as loan and furlough support programmes wind down. Rising unemployment casts a pall over consumer demand in the first winter of the pandemic.

Online continues to power retail sales, as consumers replace out-of-home with in-home activities. Online grocery sales have leapt to 10% of all grocery sales—double the pre-pandemic levels.

ByteDance is rushing to sell a 20% stake in TikTok Global to Oracle and Walmart at an enterprise value of $60 billion. TikTok otherwise faces a ban in the US on 12 November, subject to legal challenges.

The sale hinges on ByteDance obtaining approval from China to export TikTok’s core technologies. China updated its export control rules to include algorithms (and AI), entrenching a tech cold war with the West.

TikTok has confounded regulatory woes in India and the US, and renewed competition from US tech, to post dizzying user growth in every major internet region where it is available, casting off its image as a niche youth product and entering the mainstream.

Over Q2, the value of online sales (excl. fuel) grew by 55%, whilst offline sales (excl. fuel) declined by 22%. Three months of lockdown has accelerated ecommerce by four years and households will spend more than ever before online, post-lockdown.

The rapid shift to ecommerce poses lofty challenges to UK retailers who have historically been timid in their approach to ecommerce. Integration between sales channels will become more important than ever before, but very few have managed to perfect this approach.

As more retail activity takes place online, ad products from the likes of Google, Amazon and Facebook stand to benefit greatly, pulling spend from other ad and marketing budgets that were aimed at driving in-store behaviours.

 

Fortnite has been kicked from mobile app stores over the ‘App Store tax’, the 30% cut that Google and Apple charge for in-app purchases.

Apple needs Fortnite to keep the iPhone attractive, but it also needs its revenue cut, as services have become a key part of its growth story to investors.

Apple can no longer set its ecosystem rules without regard for partners, as apps like Fortnite, Amazon and WeChat are so central to the utility of a smartphone.

Apple’s developer conference coincided with a period of unprecedented tension with its developer community, parts of which are chafing under Apple’s rules for the iPhone App Store.

These rules let Apple extract a large portion of the value of the App Store. This revenue is more important than ever to Apple’s growth story, so it has been applying its rules more strictly.

Apple is constrained here by the need to deliver the best product possible to its users, and by the possibility of regulatory intervention.

Online reviews are a vital input for consumer decision-making. However, reviews are easy to manipulate, and widespread fraud is undermining credibility and raising the issue of consumer protection.

Facebook, Google, and Amazon utilise reviews to improve the consumer experience, but also to sell advertising to businesses and to address fraud. These companies leverage their data superiority to better utilise reviews on their platforms, and possess a competitive advantage, versus sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and eBay.

Demand for expert opinion remains strong, yet is supplied only by publishers and Which?, a small segment in terms of share of traffic relative to platforms.