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Four mega trends shaping the future of commerce

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The fact that we all have technology at our fingertips has caused a disintermediation within traditional commerce, and significant disruption for retailers big and small. Consider the impact of Netflix on Blockbuster and local video stores, or how Amazon upended book buying. What we know for sure is that innovation, and the speed at which a business is able to innovate, is no longer an option. Rather, it is paramount to survival.

In the next decade, we’ll see more change in the commerce landscape than in the past 100 years combined.The reason? Four mega trends being driven by consumers are dramatically changing buying and selling habits as we know them. Merchants of all types—from brick-and-mortar retail outlets to non-profits, to manufacturers and even those selling online, need to ensure they’re keeping pace or risk going the way of Blockbuster, Borders and the dinosaurs.


Smartphone sales are on such an aggressive upward trajectory that some estimates suggest there will be up to 50 billion connected devices (beyond just smartphones) by 2020 and each consumer will have approximately seven devices connected to the Internet. Beyond just making phone calls or sending text messages, people regularly look up directions, research products while in-store, chat and compare with friends and family, search for deals and even pay for their morning coffee with their mobile phone.

These intelligent, always-connected devices and the consumers using them to their full potential are pushing merchants to react quickly, or die. Businesses that don’t have a mobile commerce strategy are losing out on significant revenue, and that’s only going to continue to accelerate.


Not long ago the most impressive features of online shopping were the ability to find out which stores were located in your neighborhood and determine which might have your item in.

Now, there’s an app for that!  By leveraging inventory sharing and local mapping, buyers can now access real-time inventory data while on the go, browse through sales and deals tailored to their individual preferences and even get suggestions based on things like frequently visited restaurants, clubs, hotels and more. This is powerful stuff.

The merging of mobile and local is also leading to the creation of entirely new business models and opportunities for merchants and consumers alike. A great example is that people are now able to get paid for snapping photos while out and about in their cities. How cool is that?

If you’re not taking full advantage of the ability to reach customers based on stated preferences and proximity, you’ve already fallen behind.


Commerce is an inherently social endeavor. Not long ago, a customer would try on a sweater while in-store and ask her friends for feedback before purchasing. Today that same customer can just as easily try on the sweater, snap a photo of herself wearing it, share it on her social network of choice and get a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ within minutes from multiple friends in various locations. There are apps that will share what a person’s friends have purchased on social sites or allow users to share local recommendations with one another.

The explosion of consumer interest in social networks has spawned the so-called social commerce opportunity. In fact, transacting within social networks is predicted to go from a $5 billion opportunity in 2011 to a $30 billion opportunity by 2015.

The challenge for merchants? How to effectively leverage a customers’ social graph to build an additional commerce channel within the social networks themselves. We’re beginning to see early signs of this with some of the group gifting apps and the ‘social shopping mall’ concept that allows sellers to offer their products directly to hundreds of millions of Facebook users.


Digital has changed everything—including how we use and think about currency. People now have the ability to bump phones together to pay off a friendly wager, order and pay for a meal entirely via a mobile device and transfer paper checks into their account by snapping a photo with their mobile phone.

Similar changes are occurring in-store. Consumers can pick up an item off the shelf, scan the barcode using their mobile phone and immediately find out if the same item is available online or down the street for a lower price.

The digital revolution is here, it’s real and it has leveled the playing field for both buyers and sellers of all shapes and sizes.

The Future

As the mobile, local, social and digital trends drive our lifestyles, the pace of innovation will determine which businesses will go boom or bust. At the end of the day, merchants want to return to the business of being merchants. They want to find the best things to sell to consumers and they want to create the best shopping experience a consumer can have. Those that are nimble and seek to adapt quickly to emerging consumer behaviors will not only survive, but thrive. One thing is for sure—the future will look nothing like the past.

What do you think commerce will look like in 5-10 years?

Matthew Mengerink is vice president and general manager of X.commerce, the first end-to-end, multi-channel commerce technology platform designed for all the ways consumers choose to shop today. Matthew leads the integrated open commerce platform group and is responsible for ensuring that eBay Inc. builds a strong, robust developer community across the eBay, PayPal and GSI technology platforms to amplify merchants’ businesses.

To hear more about mobile payments, check out our GigaOM Mobilize conference Sept. 26 and 27 in San Francisco.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Johan Larsson.

19 Responses to “Four mega trends shaping the future of commerce”

  1. Each store will have a map on our mobile device similar to Google street view (google aisle view) , we will enter our shopping list and as we enter the store, the store app will tell us where to find that item and maybe offer coupons, sales, discounts and alternative items for sale, the stores will ultimately have a graph of all our recent purchases and will suggest similar items or make recommendations (like Amazon), and we will have the ability to purchase with out entering a checkout station.

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  3. Taking in consideration the constant growth and evolution of the Internet and eCommerce, in 5-10 years period of time its role will encrease, making the web a busy place for both sellers and buyers. So the fure looks bright for eCommerce.

  4. In the future. Virtual shopping. Imagine a combination of SecondLife and The Sims with a more realistic look. Not only will you be able to buy that sweater for your avatar, you’ll be able to buy it for yourself. This is one of the first steps in humans realizing themselves as virtual beings. Right now I think there is some disparity between the self and virtual self but one day its going to merge and become one.

  5. Most of this is already here and growing. It is not the future.
    Methods of payment etc. will change and really don’t matter as long as the company gets their money. Scanning is already here and is widely used on smart phones so it is NOT the future. Social networks are already being leveraged and I expect they will be use for purposes we have not thought of yet.

    I think the real technologies that are racing forward that will change things are facial recognition linked into social networks. Once companies actually distinguish you from someone else the marketing is going to get crazy. Linking this with social networks allows companies to really target their products to the individual plus individuals don’t get bombarded by ads not related to them.
    This also deals with a lot of security issues like fraud more effectively.
    The interface customers use will always change and we have no way of knowing what will be coming. We do know that it is in both customer and business interest to continue to make them smaller, simpler and more integrated. I expect an advanced watch with interactive holography is just around the corner. That will wipe out all the interface we currently work with ;)

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  7. These trends are changing the way we all do business including sales people. It gives us the opportunity to spend more time in front of clients with all the available data. It also provides a unique way to find new opportunities

  8. I think the biggest challenge is actually interoperability. Yes, you can have 7 devices, but what a pain it is to manage them all. Not to mention you will need an eighth one just for that one thing that the previous 7 can’t (or better, won’t) do just for some pathetic reason. It’s not a problem to make electronic service out of anything, but essentialy you’re getting thousands of different standards, which are mutually exclusive and limit your choices due to the politics behind it.

    So, does it help? Yes, it keeps the world moving, but until we make up some pretty well-founded and open standards, these trends are a burp in the wind.

  9. It’s always a bit dodgy trying to predict the future yet we seem compelled to do so time and again.

    I have to say i disagree with this bit of the article “suggest there will be up to 50 billion connected devices (beyond just smartphones) by 2020 and each consumer will have approximately seven devices connected to the Internet.”

    Even in today’s seriously saturated mobile phone subscriptions are yet to outnumber humans so i’m not sure how they have come to think that each person will have 7 internet devices.

    • I think they are including anything considered smart – smart refrigerators, smart toasters, smart lights, smart washer, smart dryer. Every manufacturer seems to have plans for the smart house that can be connected from your smart car or smart phone or smart whatever

  10. Mobile shopping is really growing fast – I read a similar article about eBay shoppers using it more, even to shop for houses and cars. QR codes perhaps will take longer to catch up, they are bobbing up and down and not too many know how and what to use them for.

  11. I completely agree. The future of retail is the QR tags / barcodes where we will not only be able to view prices, but also connect with other consumers via reviews / testimonials, and also more information about the product.

    This revolution is creating smarter buyers, consequently, those who sell better products at better prices will retain customers. Sure that may seem obvious but as time goes on we will be able to see more clearly who is investing in their consumer / products and who isn’t.

  12. I remember the first cell phone my father got. He made me sit in the back seat so that the phone suitcase can get the front seat. The first time I got a fax sent to me from NY was when I was 13 years old in Paris. Yes I do remember the first tine I saw a computer. It was a apple, I remember not understanding why a apple would be on a box of this TV looking thing. Check out these things that might change our lives. Sam Chanin  

  13. Barcode scanning with the iPhone is frankly a pain. It takes too long to load the app, and then focus the barcode properly in the frame. There ought to be an independent barcode scanner in the phone rather than have the apps rely on the built-in camera (which is meant for taking pictures, right?).

  14. This is great for 2010/11, but the larger trends are going to change commerce quite a bit more.

    You can group intelligence, local, and social into a larger bucket that I call customization. It is implicitly about both the relationship with the commerce entity as well as friends and environment. Secondly, the ability to define and control behavior is where the strength of future commerce lies. Right now, we barely get past selling, whereas controlling my diet, informing me of dietary choices and information, and finally selling me a product is the array where brands will have to compete.

    After designing for mobile for three years, the future reality is barely discernible, but we all know it’s there. It is way different than e-commerce as it is practiced.