The Changing Global Web

A farmer stands in a field in Kuwait, looking out across his herd. It’s time to start the daily grind. And so he pulls out his mobile phone, and photographs a sheep to sell on Instagram

This scenario is referenced in The Emerging Global Web, a slidedeck by Yiibu that gives an insight into the rising levels of internet access and mobile usage around the world. At 113 slides it’s a fairly hefty read so we’ve picked out some particularly interesting points to discuss with our Distilled readers.

Everyone is on mobile

We all know that mobile is big business these days. (Indeed, mobile now makes up 25% of all web usage, which is 14% higher than last year.) But what is interesting here is that mobile usage is especially high in developing countries. Many people in these areas have leapfrogged the laptop and PC era and gone straight to smart phones and tablets. And this often serves as their only device.

Social media is fuelling new informal businesses

Growing numbers of mobile users are followed by a global surge in social media activity. For instance, more than 70% of emerging market internet users are on Facebook and Twitter. In turn, these platforms provide opportunities for businesses to market and sell products without the costs of starting their own website.

In Thailand, for example, over 10,000 businesses use Facebook as an ecommerce platform, many of which are very small and run using mobile phones.

And while Facebook is popular in Thailand, over in Kuwait it’s all about Instagram. This picture-sharing site is used by over 100 million people across the world. And in many developing countries, it’s used as an ecommerce platform – allowing its users to photograph a product, add a tag, and then sell it (just like the farmer selling his sheep).

With many people only needing a phone and access to social media, the number of informal businesses is going through the roof. These tend to be fairly adhoc – for instance, most don’t have an online form to take people’s details, or a shopping cart. But this doesn’t mean to say they’re entirely unsophisticated. In fact, these businesses benefit from a great adaptability – they fill the gaps in the market and change tack whenever needed.

Virtual marketplaces are booming

This is particularly the case in China. Here, 90% of ecommerce merchants sell their goods at online marketplaces that are huge in scale and scope. The largest of these is Alibaba’s Tmall which has more than 180 million customers and upwards of 150,000 merchants.

Many of these merchants are brands including big players like Apple. Having a virtual store on Tmall is a much cheaper option than having physical shops built across the country.

On top of an entry fee, Tmall takes a commission for each sale. But in return, merchants enjoy large amounts of traffic and a customisable, social-media optimised ecommerce platform.

Alibaba is an internet global leader, having poured $5 billion into mergers and acquisitions between 2012 and 2014. (To see the acquisitions of some of the world’s tech giants, see this piece we made for our client Simply Business.)

Curated social media sites

Trust plays a big part in shopping. Instead of going straight to the big brands, consumers in countries such as China are turning to micro-blogs to see what to buy. Popular bloggers will be trusted to select only the best products available, promoting these on social media and taking a cut from each resulting sale.

Translating as ‘beauty talk’, Meilishuo is one of the largest sites of this kind (also known as ‘online shopping neighbourhoods’), with over 32 million users. It displays products from third party websites and gives users the chance to share online shopping links and information on their favourite selections.

Platforms are big business

WeChat is currently huge in China. This communication platform allows for group text chat, video chat and photo blogging, along with features such as payment provision. And brands can create their own mini sites within WeChat featuring news content, interactive voice response and virtual wallets. The ability to do multiple things in one place allows for greater convenience and interactivity.

Mobiles link everything together

Many online businesses rely on QR codes (though these haven't caught on in the west). These are scanned with a smart phone and are used to interact with and purchase things from companies. For example, WeChat generates a QR code for each account, which brands can then display on their website, business cards, posters, packaging, etc.

Photo credit: Dennis Wong, Flickr

Offline and online are merging

QR codes are also impacting offline purchases. Platforms such as WeChat and Alibaba are teaming up with physical shops and department stores to allow customers to buy goods in store by simply scanning the QR code on a chosen product. In Korea, consumers save time grocery shopping by scanning the codes of product pictures displayed at public transport stations. Once the person has added the items to their basket, they can arrange to have them delivered just in time for dinner.

Photo credit:  Marco Derksen, Flickr

For more on the changing face of the global web, check out the full slidedeck from Yiibuu over here

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