Consumers Become Hyper-Connected
New Trends In Digital Consumption
On the back of technological progress, especially in telecoms (4G, 5G, smartphones), chips and ever-more powerful components, consumers now have access to a whole new range of products and services. They spend more and more time surfing the Web and want new experiences and leisure activities. The e-commerce market is estimated to expand from USD 1.8 trillion in 2018 to USD 2.7 trillion in 2023. Online providers and services are growing as well in streaming, gaming, sport, augmented reality, etc. So who will be tomorrow's winners?
This technology theme is aimed at dynamic investors, who are interested in innovation, the progress in the Internet and new means of communication.
There are many (large) companies listed on the US equity markets to play this theme. In addition, many funds, trackers, structured products and private equity make it possible to invest in this theme.
Other major regions of the world (Europe and Asia) are enjoying a boom in this area. North-East Asia has even overtaken the West, in a whole new range of consumer applications.
Given the intrinsic volatility of this type of investment, a long-term horizon is recommended.
This is a ‘Business to Consumer’ (‘B2C') theme, which means that it relates to the sale of products and services by a business to an end customer. That said, the theme may also be played by investing in key companies in the 'Business to Business' ('B2B') segment (e.g. digital financial services, targeted advertising, cyber security).
Disruptions and new technologies are creating new products, services and consumer habits. For example, digital transformation enables consumers to order products online and gain access to a new range of services on the Web. Moreover, they enjoy greater quality, faster connection speeds, customisation and reliability.
Consumers are more and more connected via their smartphone or laptop, which are gateways to an exponentially-growing digital universe. They are looking for new digital experiences and leisure activities and are more demanding. The economy of this new virtual world is growing. Indeed, it is striking to see the value acquired by some web-based companies, such as Uber even though it has no vehicles, Facebook which does not create content, and Airbnb which owns no property!
What do consumers spend more and more time doing on the Web and what are they buying?
E-commerce: everything is done so that customers no longer have to go into a physical store if they have no time or just don't want to. The improved quality of photos, 3D images, and online financial services has allowed customers to make purchases sitting comfortably in their armchair.
Streaming: consumers can now choose what film or series they want to watch, and when. They also have a wide choice of live and retransmitted sporting events via the Internet. The quality of the onscreen image and Internet connection speeds are much better these days thanks to next generation telecom networks. The leader Netflix is threatened by newcomers, such as Walt Disney, AT&T, Comcast, Amazon and Apple.
e-Gaming & e-Sports: older game consoles (Play Station, Nintendo, Xbox, etc.) now face strong competition from online gaming. E-sport tournaments are now played in venues filled with thousands of spectators, who attend such events as though they were going to a concert.
Augmented reality: nowadays you can walk around whilst using your smartphone, and for example hunt for a Pokemon hidden in your favourite park. In the comfort of your own home, you can play tennis or dance in a virtual setting, which may seem more real than reality! Google has developed eyeglasses that take wearers into a virtual world from wherever they are.
The sharing economy: it is no longer necessary to own a car or a holiday home. Through Uber, Airbnb and Booking, people have access to gigantic databases of cars with drivers, resorts and luxury hotels. So what's changed? As a user, it is easy to impose very strict criteria, keep tabs on one's choices and, above all, check out the experience of previous users, or even share one's own experience with others!
What key B2B services are being developed to support online consumption?
Online payments: because all purchases must be paid for, there is a need for powerful, reliable and efficient online payment facilitators.
Online advertising: in our capitalist world, consumers are encouraged to spend increasingly more. Nowadays it is conducted in a very efficient way: certain companies indeed specialise in targeted sales and marketing.
Cyber security: consumers need to be sure that their data are well protected, and nobody other than the online product and service provider can take their money.
After the resounding success of giants such as Amazon, many entrepreneurs dream of becoming the next ‘Jeff Bezos’. Consequently, there is a huge number of start-ups, and competition in the sector is fierce.
The enthusiasm around some fabulous success stories and the search for growth in a world where it is slowing down substantially have led to valuations that have sometimes become very rich.
Some companies that are not very mature or profitable have tried their luck on the stock market with sometimes consequential setbacks. For example, Uber and WeWork's IPOs (initial public offerings) went pear-shaped!
So investors must be selective, especially in view of the rally in technology stocks in 2019.