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 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.

BT’s revenue growth remained very suppressed in the September quarter at -7%, with a limited COVID-19 recovery chocked off by seasonal roaming effects and regulator-inspired pricing forbearance.

EBITDA growth did improve to -3% from -7% last quarter, mainly due to short-term cost actions and the early impact of its longer-term cost program, and the company has upgraded its short- and longer-term EBITDA targets.

The company is also optimistic on a longer-term return to underlying revenue growth, helped by a return to regular existing customer price increases and the impact of full fibre, but not until 2023, with a few bumps in the road before then.

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.

 

Premium sports subscriptions are the primary sector weakness in the current crisis, and they look set to drive fixed operator revenues down 10% next quarter and Sky’s EBITDA down by 60%.

As lockdown eases, latent broadband demand can be more easily sated, and sports subscriptions will bounce back from the September quarter. A surge in working-from-home is likely to increase both the quantity and quality of home broadband demand, with ‘failover’ mobile backup also likely to be of greater interest.

Openreach will benefit from accelerated demand for full fibre, converged operators will be best-placed to offer mobile backup for broadband, and operators with a strong corporate presence will most easily target demand for home-working products.

Following deadly border clashes between the 15th and 16th June, the Indian government has taken down 59 Chinese apps including TikTok, accusing them of illegally mining user data

India is TikTok's biggest international market, accounting for half of all users outside China. Chinese apps made up 38% of all app installs in India last year, second only to domestic apps

The India-China rivalry may spill over into more sectors as reports suggest India is reconsidering Huawei’s role in its 5G infrastructure plans. A ban would provide a fillip to US influence in the country

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.

Amazon reported $75bn in net sales, which was largely in line with expectations, and 28% growth in Prime subscription revenue—as Amazon now has more than 150 million Prime subscribers worldwide—cementing its place as the irreplaceable utility for many in lockdown.

However, Q1 results only covered a few weeks of lockdown. Amazon expects low profitability in Q2 as lockdown persists in its main markets, with customer expenditure focused on a narrow basket of essentials as people face pressures from unemployment and business closures.

Amazon’s warehouses are a key vulnerability in the time of COVID-19. Jeff Bezos pledged $4bn to keep workers safe and warehouses in function, though whether this is enough to placate government’s and workers’ concerns is yet to be seen.