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.

 

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.

Retail sales in April, the first full month of lockdown in the UK, declined a massive 18% in volume, excluding fuels. As shops open, retail will rise month-on-month, but continue to decline year-on-year as the level of retail remains durably impacted by recession.

Online soared to 30% of retail sales in April, up from 22% in March. The share of online will retreat in the second half of the year as lockdown eases and expenditure returns to the high street, but it will still claim 25-27% of retail sales excluding fuels in 2020, up from 19% in 2019.

COVID-19 is accelerating a significant consumer shift to online, and is bringing to a head the crisis of physical retail sales, setting the stage for paradigm shift.

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.

In response to COVID-19 and the associated lockdown and economic crash, advertisers have slashed budgets. Online budgets are not immune.

This has clarified features of the online ad market: it is demand-driven, relies heavily on SMEs and startups, and is built on direct response campaigns.

We expect online advertising to outperform other media, and for platforms to further gain share. But with a very few exceptions, this health and economic disaster is good for nobody.

2020 promises a year of transition for the games industry: eSports and games broadcasting are competing with traditional programming; game streaming services are becoming meaningful platform competition; and new consoles are on the way.

While most in the studio and TV industries continue to struggle with the games market—neither understanding (or seeing) a strategic fit, nor showing a willingness to invest—expect explosive growth to power the industry for the next decade and transform all entertainment services, not just games.

The ‘free-to-play’ games sector requires oversight and regulation to protect children and the vulnerable; expect regulatory turbulence in the UK, Europe and China.

Amazon, the gatekeeper to 100 million Prime members, is increasingly reliant for growth on Marketplace, where third-party sellers compete with first-party products 

Amazon’s multi-channel platform strategy delivers choice and low prices to customers, but third-party sellers have increasingly complained that their playing field is not level

After Amazon’s seller agreements were modified in August to implement a competition ruling in Germany, the European Commission is now investigating the data layer 

 

In China, Alibaba and Tencent compete for food delivery to expand access to a fast-growing source of mobile user data, using their chat and wallet super apps to funnel customers to their food delivery apps

In the West, the rivalry is direct between the food delivery apps – Just Eat, Uber Eats, and Deliveroo – and the costs of last-mile delivery dissuade challengers

In the UK, Amazon will change the game if it succeeds in its proposed purchase of a minority stake in Deliveroo, which Uber failed to buy last year. Progress on the merger of Amazon and Deliveroo is suspended by the regulator

Google’s advertising business has begun losing market share in the US, with competition from Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft intensifying in search and display

In response, the company is redoubling efforts to reshape its apps, services, and the entire web for more efficient monetisation, spelling uncertainty for partners and users

The adaptability and complexity of Google’s services reduce business risk from targeted regulatory measures, but increase the pressure for a radical intervention

Video sharing platforms, like YouTube, Facebook Watch and Twitch, are vying to attract creators with monetisation options such as branded content and user payments.

Advertising income, already limited for many small and medium-sized creators, has been undermined by YouTube’s response to brand safety concerns.

The new tools come with their own obstacles, but are necessary to keep platforms attractive to video creators.