Book Review: On China, by Henry Kissinger

How do you describe China? How could one understand a land with historic roots that spawn for almost 4000 years? No easy task, that’s for sure.

Henry Kissinger, the statesman credited for opening the US ties to Communist China in 1971, tries to do just that in its book “On China”.

On China, Henry Kissinger

On China, Henry Kissinger

The book is a framework for anyone willing to dive in the complex culture that China has carried throughout the ages. It is a vast exposition on what makes China so enduring and so different from the type of empire we have come to know in the west.

The reason “On China” is reviewed here, a blog on the future of retail, goes beyond the obvious (manufacturing). By reading Kissinger’s masterpiece, we will get a glimpse into the future, through the lens of the past. We can see China is not a rising power. It is a returning power. It is a land that fostered the strongest economy in the world through 18 out of the previous 20 centuries.

China predated the Roman Empire. It survived it and lived on to be reached by the British Empire. It survived this one as well and now it survives another one. The fact that its economy keeps rising and rising, its retailers take the world by storm and the country has moved beyond its Mao Zedong legacy shows the quiet force this country packs.

The Wei Qi principle

Henry Kissinger proposes the Wei-Qi game as a start point to understanding China. As opposed to the oldest western strategy game, Chess, Wei Qi has some key differences.

First of all – there are a lot more pieces that have to be used in the game. The pieces are all equally valued. As opposed to chess, the Wei Qi pieces are all just as valuable. There are no knights, no bishops, no king and no queen. All pieces are equally important and equally effective.

The point is not to find the pivotal action to winning the game. The point is to avoid being surrounded. Throughout China’s troubled history, generals have discovered how costly defeats are, when the enemy surrounds the troops. The war strategy has shifted from direct engagement to battles that are won before they are even fought, through good preparation, as the mythical Sun Tzu general would have noted.

These simple yet powerful differences and others such, have shaped China’s destiny throughout the centuries. Western history barely mentions the Chinese Empire, yet the court viewed itself as ruler of all that is “Under the Heavens”. The Chinese Empire rarely fought outside its borders (viewing such act as a crime). It nevertheless encountered its fare share of troubles with barbarians outside its borders, constantly being attacked. Unlike its western counterparts, it used diplomacy, rather than force to subdue weaker civilizations. The court was well taught by centuries of rich history on how to negotiate alliances, resisting attacks, integrating barbarians or even using politics to break alliances between its closest enemies. Sometimes using the enemies farther away to control those closest to the empire.

The fall of the empire

Throughout the centuries diplomacy and politic skill has been enough to keep the “barbarians” at bay. Eventually, even the Celestial Empire had to run out of luck. In the beginning of the 18th century, Western colonial powers, as well as Russia, were knocking on the gates of the Empire, trying to develop a commerce relationship. Russia, being closer and in a position to threaten China, was the first country, Kissinger notes, to be allowed to have a de facto embassy. The embassy was in fact an orthodox mission but it was a lot more than the British Empire had.

The British, as well as other colonial powers, were barely allowed a presence within the empire. Commerce was carefully regulated and restricted. In time, as diplomacy failed to get results, the British decided to use force. As China previously refused to get  western military technology, it was quickly overwhelmed by better trained soldiers, using more advanced weaponry. The “Barbarians” forced their way towards the capitol, eventually being stopped by Russia’s diplomats who negotiated a temporarily redraw. But this help from the friendly Russians was costly. China agreed to a humiliating act that would offer vast territories to Russia, in exchange for its help.

This humiliating treaties, rising internal instability, and the enemies at the gates eventually lead the empire to crumble. In 1912, the last Emperor abdicated, and China became a republic.

It wasn’t for the better, as China was virtually ungoverned. Henry Kissinger lists intervention by the United States to help the forming republic, supporting the existing nationalist government. But it was not this government that eventually won the power. It was a new leader, a communist leader: Mao Zedong.

The Communist China

Kissinger lists Mao’s rise with a reverence that may seem unnatural at times. After all – Mao is seen less like an enlightened leader in the western world, and more like a power hungry criminal that lead its country, as well as the party close to imminent self destruction. Whether it is diplomatic courtesy (you have to expect reverence from a high level US statesman) or genuine interest, if not admiration – Kissinger is clearly inclined to describe Mao as a Chinese savior. Whether it is the fact that he reunited China, or that China survived the Soviet Union’s threat, Henry Kissinger sees Mao as an important geopolitical player.

Mao defied and somehow survived both the US and the Soviet Union. Unlike the weakened European countries, Mao repeatedly declared his country was not afraid of the Nuclear Threat. No one will know if he was just bluffing to resist on the world stage, or he was actually not caring if 300 million Chinese would die in a Nuclear war. The “Great Leap Forward” and the “Cultural Revolution” would later point into the second direction.

The farthest enemy

Although Mao listed Confucianism and “the old ways” as obsolete and not to be used, he did resort to one of these tactics when the Soviet Union deployed 1 million soldiers at the Chinese-Soviet border. The soldiers were not much of a problem, but the nukes were. China and USSR were no longer comrades, and the Soviet Union was likely planning a preemptive nuclear attack. Mao decided to apply the old strategy of using the enemies from afar against those closer.

In 1971 Henry Kissinger lists its meeting with both Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. At the time, Zhou Enlai was the prime minister for over 22 years and he left a deep impression on the US statesman: “In 60 years of public life, I have never met a person more fascinating than Zhou Enlai“. This meeting extended in the next year with a visit from Richard Nixon and it was the the start in a long relationship between the two states.  It was also the visit that probably stopped a nuclear attack on China.

Mr. Enlai was eventually replaced and Mao left its position, leading the way for a new leadership. It was this new leader, Deng Xiaoping, that turned China from a starving, barely educated country, bathing in Mao’s shadow, to a growing economic power.

His work was later continued by Jiang Zemin, that encouraged education, technology developments and eventually helped China join the WTO in 2001.

Since 2001, just 13 years ago, China became a leading manufacturer, the sourcing choice for retailers worldwide, to a dominant power that now exports not only products, but rather leading businesses.

Henry Kissinger ends the book by reminding the reader of the Crowe Memorandum,  an analysis of pre-WWI Germany and the causes that lead to war. Though he envisions a future where the Pacific Powers (US and China) can collaborate in peace, he does pose the question of whether such a future is possible. The last paragraph cites Zhou Enlai, at the first meeting in 1971, when the Chinese PM mentioned their meeting will “shake the world”. The big question, for this new century, mr Kissinger asks, is could China and the US build the world, rather than shake it?

 

Beyond the Store: Drop-shops and Pop-up Stores

There is ongoing change in the retail landscape. Both offline and online retailers now migrate towards hybrid solutions. Just as brick and mortar retailers have shifted towards online retailing, so did online pure-plays started engaging customers offline.

Retailers now need to combine the in-store pick-up options (which most online pure plays don’t have), an offline presence for information and branding purposes, as well as a way of pushing best-sellers into the market. At the lowest cost possible.

Bellow you’ll find two of the most promising directions, especially for online-first retailers:

The Drop-Shop

Not to be confused with the term “drop shipping”, the drop shop is an offline facility that handles first and foremost package pick-up from customers. Such a need arises when customers do not want to subjected to shipping schedule but rather decide when and where to pick up ordered products. When dealing with such customer requests, offline-first retailers have the upper hand, as the existing store network provides support for customer pick-up options.

Slowly moving into the brick and mortar territory, online retailers discover innovative ways to handle customer offline interaction. One such example is the Amazon Locker. Its function is to allow customers to order  products online and then pick-up the package from a near-by Locker.

Amazon Locker

Amazon Locker

As seen above, most Amazon Lockers are not exactly located in the most glamorous locations (here pictured near the lady’s room) but it does the job.

Customers could select the closest Amazon Locker, had their orders delivered there and then receive an email announcing the order is now available. To pick up orders, clients can either enter the pickup code in the central-unit computer or scan the mailed barcode.

So far Amazon tried its luck with the likes of Staples (second largest online retailer in the US),  Radioshack and 7-Eleven. The promise to these companies was that Amazon has many customers and those that will want to pick up their packages from the Amazon Locker will probably buy something else from the store. The practice was not exactly successful as both Staples and Radioshack eventually dropped the project.

However, Amazon and the likes will probably not stop here, to increase sales they need to provide the customer with an way to experience product, as well as return and buy other products from their B&M operations. So far they didn’t need to, as others catered to the showrooming need. Soon enough, however, retailers able to price match will either become serious competitors and improve their online operations and then online retailers will have to battle on unknown land.

The drop shop will be a type of small to medium shop, probably affiliated with larger retail operations, providing customers for:

  • package pick-up
  • merchandise experience and testing
  • returns and customer service

The pop-up store

The concept behind the pop-up store is a temporary location that exists for a short term, to provide marketing exposure or sell limited inventory items. It is not something that online retailers brought to the market but there are a lot using it right now.

Fleur de Mal online retailer uses Pop-Up Shops to engage customers in real life.

Fleur de Mal online retailer uses Pop-Up Shops to engage customers in real life.

Online stores that don’t operate B&M operations found the pop-up store an useful way to attract attention. It’s also a great way to provide sales outlets to customers during high sales periods, such as the holidays.

New brands, focused on retail online increasingly find that using pop-up stores is a great way to attract new customers. These customer acquisition tactic allows potential buyers to experience the brand, as well as its products.

For online retailer Fleur de Mal, setting up pop-up shops has been a great way to appeal to their fashion savvy target customers. Company representatives use pop-up shops to showcase their organic fiber fashion items to potential consumers throughout the US.

BAUBLEBAR, a fresh and innovative ecommerce startup focused on jewelry has seen brand recognition increase as soon as they started opening pop-up shops. Katherin Hill, director of offline at BAUBLEBAR outlined the main incentive to open a pop-up shop: We see about half of the people who walk in to our pop-up shops have never heard of our brand before” [Source].

There are, however, several obstacles that need to be overcome, such as offline channel connectivity to the central server, as well as store design. The biggest challenge is to find the right spot to place the pop-up shops. As most online pure plays have a hard time navigating and understanding the complex offline retail rent environment, a new startup decided to step in and help small and medium retailers find the right store spot.

Storefront is a company connecting landlords to retailers. It works as a marketplace between the two types of users. As pop-up shop demand has been on the rise, the company launched a Pop-Up Shop blog and an eBook detailing the inner workings of setting up a pop-up shop.

Both the drop shop and the pop-up shop are hybrid solutions that point to the fact that online retailers feel the need to set foot in offline retail. The pressure to reach omnichannel retailing efficiency is, thus, equally felt by offline, as well as online pure plays.

This post is an excerpt from “Understanding Omnichannel Retail – A Detailed Report”.

 

 

 

Amazon Turns 20. An Illustrated History.

Amazon turns 20 this month. Founded in July 1994 by Jeff Bezos, it has now grown into the largest online retailer.

As a sign of their appreciation, the folks at DPFOC, an online marketing company, created the infographic below. The company has also created an interactive timeline, showing the most important milestones in Amazon’s 20 year history. You can enjoy it here.

Amazon turns 20. Company history infographic

Amazon turns 20. Company history infographic

“Don’t Get Surrounded” – China’s Strategy Against US Online Retail

Chess is the oldest and most popular strategy game in the west. It’s main object is gaining superiority through a decisive move against the opponent. The chess player looks for a decisive action that can lead to victory, in as few moves as possible.

Wei Qi game. Source

Wei Qi game. Source

Unlike their western counterparts, asian states have developed their military strategy around a different philosophy. Wei Qi, or the game of Go (as referred to in Japan) is the traditional game in China. Players use 180 pieces, each having the same value, to build fortifications and capture enemy positions. Unlike chess, the players don’t have a clear view of the competitor’s strategy, as the pieces are continually laid down. Matches are hardly seen as win or loose and the score can be overturned during the match, multiple times.

While chess players look for decisive actions, Wei Qi players use continuos movement to avoid being surrounded. The game, just like its western equivalent, is based on centuries of difficult wars. Due to China’s long and troubled history, its strategic approach has become less about direct confrontation and more about avoiding defeat and gaining relative advantage toward the opponent.

Western countries are playing the wrong game

Henry Kissinger expressed his view that Wei Qi is the path to understanding China’s strategy. In his book “On China” he starts describing Chinese policies through this ancient game. Although Kissinger’s metaphor is aimed at politics and military actions, it can just as well be applied to economics and for that matter, online retail.

When Ebay tried to access the Chinese market in 2004, Jack Ma, the founder of AliBaba Group, has sensed that this move may be detrimental to his own company, then providing internet marketing options to small and medium companies in China. He felt that although Ebay addressed the individual sellers, there was no clear distinction between individual businesses and small/medium companies in China.

Ebay had just laid the first stone on Jack Ma’s Wei Qi board. He decided he had to escape this potentially dangerous situation and launched Taobao, a company directly competing Ebay in China. The companies fought valiantly, with eBay trying to form partnerships against Alibaba and Taobao and investing $100 million in its Ebay EachNet operations.

While Ebay was buying all ad spaces it could find online, in a search for the decisive move, AliBaba bought TV and radio ad space, knowing the Chinese consumers were more influenced by  traditional media at the time. Ebay focused on increasing product listing numbers, while AliBaba focused on customer service. Piece by piece, AliBaba laid down all its advantages and finally pushed Ebay out of the Chinese market, in 2006.

Unfortunately, Ebay was not playing the right game in China. It’s strategy was flawed as it wasn’t able to find the check-mate move. Jack Ma made sure his strategy encircled and captured Ebay’s future earnings. But it was not enough. His game of Wei Qi was not just a timely thing. It was a prolonged campaign.

Chinese online retailers are far from stopping

This year AliBaba decided it will get listed in the United States. After it has managed to grow to handle almost 84% of China’s Ecommerce market, it has now decided to cross the Pacific and try an offensive move inside what is now the second biggest ecommerce market, the US.

AliBaba is not the only Chinese company reaching for the US online retail market. 58.com, a Chinese company dealing with classified ads and listed on the US market, has just received a $736 million investment from Tencent, another Chinese internet company.

Although both these companies are now tapping the capital market in the US, their long term intentions are probably more ambitious. Their presence in the US is a sure way to avoid encirclement. Whenever their position will become endangered, they will push farther.

While the Chinese – US economic dynamics are far more complicated and it cannot all be reduced to a game, one thing is for sure. The Yangtze crocodiles have crossed the Pacific and they are not there to play chess.

Showrooming Markets

Showrooming is a trend more and more retailers recognize. Most online retailers piggyback on consumers trying on merchandise in physical stores, only to search for the best price and then purchase the product online.

Although hard to fight, the trend might be actually beneficial for larger retailers that need to attract customers to their online stores and can afford price matching.

On one hand we have large retailers fighting to keep customers purchasing. Walmart for example, rolled out Savings Catcher in 2014 and now its pushing it across US. The tool allows users to compare prices on Walmart.com to those of its comepetitors. Any difference found is stored as store credit for the customer.

The likes of Amazon are trying to allow showroomers even more space to find the best prices online. Its recently launched Fire Phone has a built in mechanism that allows users to scan products (not just barcodes) and find the best deals online.

Showrooming around the world

Showrooming around the world

In this battle the ones that suffer most are the small retailers or retailers unadapted to omnichannel operations. This companies cannot afford customers trying on merchandise only to buy it some place else, while still keeping the shop open. It’s not just a passing thing either. 33% of customers worldwide report being showroomers, with 21% using their mobile phones to do it ( Source ).

Even more, markets that are earlier adopters of this trend seem to be even more into it. 71% of shoppers in developed Asia, 60% in North America and 54% of European consumers report showrooming practices.

As probably small to medium retailers won’t just roll over and disappear a new type of partner will probably appear in the near future

Showrooming markets as outsourced product display

Traditionally, retailers evolved to outsource everything that didn’t make sense handling within the company. Things as manufacturing or logistics are now commonly outsourced to reliable partners, companies that handle more than one retailers.

It’s not just manufacturing or logistics. If you think about it, most retailers outsource vital areas of their operations. Financial reporting, IT services and sometimes even human resources are outsourced to partners providing reliable service and economies of scale. Globalization has helped push this trend as companies can find cheaper, reliable work offshore.

But so far stores were pretty much left untouched. Retailers still feel the need to control and manage stores as they see fit, even if sometimes it is not the most economically reliable thing to do. As showrooming decreases the need and efficiency for the self-managed store, as online retail becomes increasingly popular and outsourcing gains traction in the future product display in store will also be outsourced.

[Article extracted from "Understanding Omnichannel Retail". Download the report here.]

Millennials as well as older demographics still favor B&M stores. They also like to see and touch the products they are buying. But they don’t always buy from the shop displaying the product. There is a solution that will probably become commonplace in the future, especially for small and medium retailers.

As retailers need to optimize their pricing in order to compete to only pure plays and online retailers need to establish a physical presence, a new type of company will emerge. The showrooming market.

The showrooming market is a place that aims to provide customers with extended information on the product, as well as the full product experience. The concept is already available online, with markets such as Ebay providing product display space for smaller retailers, as well as online pure plays willing to try an additional sales channel.

The primary function for the showrooming market is product display, rather than sale. Its revenue sources would be retailers paying and competing for shelf space, but generally paying less than they would displaying the products  on their on. Retailers, on the other hand, would benefit from an affordable B&M space, as well as a logistic point in product delivery, outsourced to companies that can do it better, due to economies of scale and process optimization.

Omnichannel Payments – Battle Between Giants

What comes to mind when you think digital payments? That would probably be PayPal. We all know Ebay subsidiary PayPal leads the game in digital Payments but now the game is set to change.

Paypal bets big on POS integration

Paypal bets big on POS integration

Although it does have the first mover advantage and has been going strong into omnichannel retail, PayPal is threatened by the largest tech companies in the world:

  1. First of all, company president David Marcus has resigned (or has been fired as rumor has it) to join Facebook. His mission – building a new type of … messaging tool. And by that I mean Facebook Payments.
  2. Google is pushing hard on its Google Wallet, a mobile bridge between online and offline sales. It is a fully NFC compatible payment system, which now accepts all major credit and debit cards, loyalty cards and discount cards. It also allows customers to save offers and buy using touch-to-pay systems.
  3. Everyone raved about the Amazon phone but the actual big news is … Amazon Payments. With over 200 million credit cards stored and the ability to pay with one click (for a very long time Amazon held the patent on that), Amazon is probably the biggest competitor to Ebay’s PayPal.
  4. Apple also has a huge database of credit cards stored on its server. It also has a massive database of customer options, customer history and a fully featured Keychain app built into Safari, ready to help customers do a quick checkout. Its wide device adoption allows it to become one of the most important players in the omnichannel payments area.
  5. Let’s not forget Ali Baba Group, the organization that controls over 84% of the fastest growing and biggest ecommerce market: China. AliPay is the group’s payment system, fully featured with the Yue Bao savings account. And now the company is set to have its IPO in the US.

Now this is the real Game of Thrones in the omnichannel world. Five tech monarchies are reaching for our wallets.

 

 

Amazon vs Walmart Comparison in one Essential Chart

Two companies have redefined retail in the past 50 years. One is a company founded by Sam Walton in 1962. Mr. Walton opened the first Walmart in Rogers, Arkansas. The other is an Internet company, founded by Jeff Bezos in his small garage in Bellevue, Washington. This second company is Amazon, the largest Internet Retailer.

Both companies went on to be huge successes but in terms of revenue, Walmart has the upper hand. With $469 billion in 2013 revenue and 10700 stores opened worldwide, Walmart beats by far Amazon’s $74 billion 2013 revenue. If you look at the raw data Amazon is no match for Walmart. But pull back just a bit and the picture is changes. By comparing the track records for the two companies an interesting insight becomes clear:

Amazon vs Walmart - 17 years revenue comparison

Amazon vs Walmart – 17 years revenue comparison

The chart above is a comparison in terms of historic revenue. On one hand you have Walmart – the biggest and most successful retailer in recorded history. Employer of 2.2 million people, crusher of markets and destroyer of mom and pop shops. On the other hand you have Amazon, the brave new world of online retail. Both redefined their markets and both are leaders in their respective fields.

But one is unlike the other. See – I couldn’t even put together figures from the first years in Walmart’s history. Walmart’s revenues starts 6 years after the first Walmart opened, in 1968. That’s when the company reached a figure ($12.6 million) comparable to Amazon’s first year with recorded revenue (1996 – $15.7 million). 17 year after the company launch, Amazon registered $74.4 billion in revenue, while Walmart registered “just” $6.4 billion.

Both the trend and evolution show one thing - Amazon is on its way to become the biggest retailer in the world, a type of retailer the world has never seen. This might probably be a good time to reconsider your stock choices.

There’s no Place Like 127.0.0.1

When it comes to computers, 127.0.0.1 is the “localhost”. In computer networking the local host is “this computer”. Or home. We have a changing landscape in computer usage (shift to mobile) and we notice the same trend in human behavior. People change places more than before. Decreased cost in transportation and relocation means we can move from one place to another without much hassle.

Our home when we're away

Our home when we’re away

But there is no place like home, right? Well – what is home? Apparently our digital hubs have become our homes when we are on the move. Social networks are now our go-to place when we want to connect with our friends, even when we are away. Photo sharing apps like Instagram or Flickr store our memories and we can access them on the fly whenever we are away.

Even our local shop gets replaced by the increasingly present favorite online shop brand. There is a pattern that shows mobile buyers (those that change residential areas) are more prone to purchasing online and staying loyal to their favorite online store brand:

“For example, customers at Diapers.com who change locations become more or less likely to shop online, depending on the increase or decrease in their offline shopping costs in their new neighborhoods. Specifically, shoppers who have some experience shopping online and then move to a new location with homes with more storage capacity and relatively few stores will increase their online shopping activity.” Source: MIT Sloan Review

We, human beings, do not enjoy change all that much. In a fast moving world – we need stability. We need a fixed point. And after all it is all relative. If we’re constantly on the move – the only fixed point is that which moves with us or is everywhere around. Brick and mortar stores are fixed and therefore always moving for the traveler. Our fixed point is in the cloud. Our fixed point is the mobile.

Top Three Most Influential Persons in Online Retail

Online retail is a fast moving sector and there are lots of outstanding business leaders out there. Among the best of the best, some really stand out. The way they’ve founded their companies and directed their investments have placed them in the higher echelon of influence in online retail.

Let’s have a look at them and their stories:

No.3 Jack Ma

Net Worth: $9.6 billion
Company: AliBaba Group

Jack Ma - founder of Alibaba.com

Jack Ma – founder of Alibaba.com

Jack Ma, a former English teacher in China, got his first taste of internet entrepreneurship in 1995, when he founded China Pages, a directory of Chinese businesses. He previously worked as a lecturer in English and International trade in the Hangzhou Dianzi University.

After founding and running China pages he briefly worked for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation, between 1998 and 1999. In 1999 he founded Alibaba, a B2B marketplace connecting Chinese manufacturers to the world.

Alibaba’s spectacular growth pushed Ma and his associates to add new companies to the group. AliBaba Group now owns Alibaba.com, Taobao Marketplace, Tmall, eTao, Alibaba Cloud Computing, Juhuasuan, 1688.com, AliExpress.com and Alipay.

The company is now only outmatched by Walmart in terms of revenue. Recent developments and an increase in online retail spending have made the Chinese market the largest online retail market in the world. The big winner: Alibaba Group. Through its subsidiaries, the AliBaba Group now handles $248 billion in transactions, 84% of the total online retail market in China.

But Jack Ma is not to be stopped. He is preparing one of the largest IPO’s in American history, after failing to reach an agreement with the Hong Kong exchange. His ambition is fueled by a sense of mission to run his company as an army conquering the world:

“I had always wished that I was born in a period of war. I could have been a general, I thought about what I could have achieved in war.” – Jack Ma, AliBaba Group

All signs point to Jack Ma building the hyper company he dreamed of. He is an effective leader, running the monopoly on online retail, in the world’s future largest economy.

No.2 Larry Ellison

Net Worth: $51.7 billion
Company: Oracle, NetSuite, Salesforce, etc.

Larry Ellison

Larry Ellison

You wouldn’t think of the fifth wealthiest man in the world as one of the most influential persons in online retail. But he is. Through it’s flagship company and different personal investments, he is in control when it comes to online retail infrastructure and software.

For once, Larry Ellison is Oracle and Oracle means, first and foremost, databases. Ellison started his career working for the Ampex Corporation in 1970, on a relational database for the CIA. His designs were based on a paper written by Edgar F. Codd, called “A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks”. The same design was implemented by IBM, but the company didn’t have time to solidify its dominance on the market. Challengers soon began to emerge.

Database deployement - Oracle leads the pack

Database deployment – Oracle leads the pack

One of those challengers was Larry Ellison’s Software Development Laboratories (SDL), founded with two partners and later renamed Oracle, based on the database Ellison developed when he was working for the CIA database.

After a long struggle against the largest competitor, IBM (which would push its DB2 and SQL/DS products) and other challengers (Informix, Sybase, Microsoft) – Oracle eventually took lead in the database war. In 2010 the European Union approved Oracle’s acquisition of Sun Microsystems. One of the most important assets Oracle got was the wide-spread, popular MySQL database.

So for one - Oracle now dominates the database market, the underlying infrastructure of connected systems and retailers worldwide.

And that’s just the begging – Oracle is currently on a purchase streak, aiming to build a strong multichannel retail presence. It is second only to Adobe Systems, with its customers registering over $200 billion in revenue in 2013.

It’s presence is split between Social marketing, ecommerce platform software, site search, customer service, personalized content and transportation management.

To give you a glimpse on how serious Oracle is about its investments in multichannel retail – they paid $1.5 billion in 2011 for Right Now Technologies, a company providing customer service software and services to the likes of Overstock.com.

Larry Ellison is also one of the major shareholders in Netsuite and Salesforce, two companies shaping the global B2B and B2C commerce future.

1. Jeff Bezos

Net Worth: $30.1 billion
Company: Amazon

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos is the one man we all picture when we think about ecommerce. He is a Princeton graduate with a degree in Computer Science. After graduating from college he pursued a career in investment banking in Wall Street, which he left to found Amazon, after noticing the fast growth in Internet usage.

He set up his company in the proverbial garage with few employees and in 1995 launched the beta version for 300 friends. Days after the launch the book selling eshop managed to ship books across US and 45 foreign countries. Yearly sales in the first year reached $510 000, much more than Bezos envisioned. The company grew and grew, survived the dot com and went on to register $74.5 billion in 2013 revenue.

By expanding the initial book selling operations into CD’s, videos and later clothing, toys, electronics, home & garden, jewelry and even art, Amazon essentially became the “everything store”. Amazon is now the biggest online retailer and a disrupting force in retail.

Everything from the ecommerce revolution to online payments, shipping and marketing has been heavily influenced by Amazon and guided by Jeff Bezos, both a star-gazing visionary and a focused micromanager.

kindle dx

The Kindle DX

In 2007 Amazon launched the Kindle which soon became a revolutionary device that changed the way we think of books and digital content. In 2013 the company hinted at the idea of using aerial drones to enable faster shipping and in 2014 it announced that it’s now testing its 7 and 8 generation aerial vehicles.

But beyond his influence in online retail and retail at large, Bezos is a special human being. A libertarian, he invested in projects most of us would consider unreal and unattainable. He was one of the first investors in Google, financed a clock that would run 10 000 years and a company that’s working on lowering space flight costs, to allow humanity to explore the great unknown.

This short list, headed by Jeff Bezos, is prone to change. The world around can change as well, partly due to these people’s and efforts. To get a deeper glimpse on how they did it and what motivates them, have a look at Jeff Bezos’ Princeton graduation address, “What matters more than your talents”:

China Passes US in Terms of Online Retail. Europe Lags Behind with 12% Growth Rate

China’s Ministry of Commerce released data showing huge growth in terms of Online Retail. Chinese consumers spent $296.57 billion online in 2013, 13% more than their American counterparts ($262.51 billion in 2013). That means China is now the biggest market for online retail.

China showed a 41.2% growth YoY and is now the largest online retail market

Chinese online retail market showed a 41.2% growth rate from 2012, a result of a) an increase in online spending and b) an increase in the total number of internet users. The number of internet users in China grew 8.5% to a total of 618 million users at the end of 2013. As a result, China showed an increase of 52.4 million in online consumers.

Chinese B2C ecommerce expected to grow even faster in 2014.

Chinese B2C ecommerce expected to grow even faster in 2014. Source.

Although China surpassed the US in total online spending, one must not ignore the fact that the US still spends almost twice as much online than China. The total number of internet users in US, according to Internet World Stats is 277 million, 54% less than internet users in China.

As such, American users spend 945$ per year online, whereas Chinese users spend 478$ per year. Moreover, online retail in China is more or less a monopoly ran by the Ali Baba group, a company preparing for an american IPO. With  $248 billion in transactions handled in 2013 through its many subsidiaries, Ali Baba accounts for 84% of all Chinese online retail. That is NOT a balanced market.

Although the numbers amount in favor of Chinese online retail (large growth rates, increased number of consumers and a lot of room to grow) Ali Baba’s dominance does not paint a pretty picture. Whereas US online retail is a competitive and balanced market, the Chinese behemoth has clay legs. Sure – it had a astonishing growth and there certainly is a market there, but can the Chinese leaders take on mature, innovative markets? My bet is on NO. The centralized, planned uber-organization can work pretty well in China but in the competitive world of global markets it might run into trouble.

Europe lags behind and is expected to reach $318 billion in 2018

Europe shows a healthy, double-digit growth rate in terms of online retail, yet still lags behind the US and China. Forester shows that Europe will grow with a CAGR of 12% until 2018, when the market is expected to reach €233.9 billion ($318 billion).

This is neither good nor bad. Europe is still making peace with it’s new-found unity. The European Union still has to battle inequality between countries, has had a rough time battling recession and has just recently considered online retail as a viable alternative to classic retail.

Northern Europe is more mature in terms of online retail development, thus shows smaller growth. Southern and Eastern Europe has increasingly adopted online retail as means to reach its uncovered consumers and shows larger growth rates.

Make no mistake, however. Europe is a large market. It has 518 million internet users and there is still room to grow. There are more money to spend and surely Europeans will get moving soon. Just as soon as they get over this recession thingie.