Building eCommerce For The Greater Good

Building eCommerce For The Greater Good

As eCommerce reshapes the modern marketplace, many shoppers are spending more time and money online, leading eCommerce to grow, with sales expected to reach $5.5 trillion in 2022.1 The accessibility of online shopping and the growing use of digital payment options have resulted in a dramatic shift in consumer shopping habits. While there are advantages to expanding online, the rapidly changing landscape has also created financial, economic and social benefits.

eCommerce Encourages Entrepreneurship

The eCommerce industry encourages entrepreneurship by reducing start-up costs. An eCommerce site can be launched for as little as $1,000, depending on the necessary features for business.2 Whereas a significant amount of time and money is needed to open a physical store, an eCommerce store can be operational in just a few short weeks or days. Fewer barriers to start and a more significant market share encourage businesses of all sizes to compete. As more retailers enter the marketplace, sustained growth and competition lead to more innovation and online experiences. To keep customers coming back, retailers must focus on the customer experience and create compelling products that stand out. This focused attention helps attract new customers and incentivizes current customers to return to online shops, driving economic growth. 

Widely Available Goods and Services

Businesses can connect with customers through online channels and have far greater reach than physical stores. It’s estimated that 2.14 billion people worldwide, roughly a quarter of the world’s population, will make an online purchase in 2022.3 ECommerce ensures customers can find everything they need in one place. Without the limitations of a brick and mortar store, online retail stores can offer a greater number of products to their customers. In addition to increased purchasing options, customers can browse and make purchases at their convenience. Online stores enable customers to spend their time shopping instead of driving to physical stores or waiting in long lines. Online stores are always open and provide 24/7 access to vital goods and services. Secure payment options, including digital wallets, credit or debit cards and crypto, facilitate payment and encourage sales. 

More Affordable Products 

The increasing number of online storefronts has resulted in competition among retailers to provide the best deal to consumers. This gives consumers the ability to compare prices and quality. Additionally, lower operating costs allow online retailers to sell products for less than traditional retailers. The demand for certain products encourages companies to create more affordable alternatives. With so many online options, consumers can find products at their desired price point, encouraging even less affluent customers to shop. Retailers can also offer deferred payment through Buy Now, Pay Later platforms that make purchases more achievable for customers. Giving customers the option to pay later can boost sales by making larger purchases more obtainable. 

A Lifeline During Uncertain Times

A key benefit of online retail is that it is a lifeline for businesses and customers during turbulent times. As the world went into lockdown in response to COVID-19, commerce habits shifted to online purchasing. Shortages of essential items on store shelves resulted in many customers turning to eCommerce. Online shopping boomed because it was a safe and viable option to obtain necessary items. Companies that focused their efforts on online selling were more likely to survive and grow. Expanding their online presence also meant some businesses could continue to provide jobs to workers during a period of record unemployment and uncertainty.4

Career Opportunities

The growth of online retail translates to increased career opportunities. According to the data and analytics company GlobalData, the number of eCommerce jobs has increased by 180% from September 2020 to September 2021.5 Jobs in marketing, sales, design, web development and IT positions are vital to keeping an eCommerce company operating. While online websites automate many processes, the human element cannot be eliminated. Talented IT professionals are necessary to create and keep websites up and running, while creative sales and design teams contribute content to educate and connect with customers. Lastly, skilled customer service departments are necessary to handle customer queries.

Why Should Businesses Care

The eCommerce industry has revolutionized commerce worldwide. Entrepreneurs can now set up shop easier than ever, providing new opportunities. The increased number of online retailers has generated more diversity in goods and services, which helps keep costs manageable. During times of uncertainty, eCommerce offers a lifeline that enables consumers to find much-needed supplies. Businesses that shift to eCommerce can continue to expand while helping the greater good by providing employment, goods and services to everyone.

Footnotes:

1.https://www.emarketer.com/content/global-ecommerce-forecast-2022

2.https://www.bigcommerce.com/articles/ecommerce/ecommerce-cost/#conclusion

3.https://www.oberlo.com/statistics/how-many-people-shop-online

4.https://www.forbes.com/sites/johncaplan/2021/05/03/ecommerce-has-been-a-lifeline-for-small-businesses-during-the-pandemic-where-do-they-go-from-here/?sh=e85d61235871

5.https://www.globaldata.com/ecommerce-hiring-increases-180-y-o-y-social-commerce-trends-increasing-hiring-activity-finds-globaldata/

How WFH Culture Has Changed Commerce Habits

How WFH Culture Has Changed Commerce Habits

When the lockdown order came at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses scrambled to convert their daily operations to remote workspaces. Luckily, we live in an age that offers enough technology, such as high-speed internet, online payments, and video conferencing, to make work from home (WFH) successful. Although WFH was difficult for some businesses, it proved to be a practical and sustainable business method for eCommerce companies. With the WFH culture in full swing, commerce habits switched heavily to online purchasing and affected consumers’ purchasing. As the Covid-19 public health crisis enters its third year, political leaders and business leaders are in the process of reframing Covid-19 as an endemic disease, one that society must learn to cope with indefinitely. As restrictions lift and case numbers decrease, employers must navigate unfamiliar waters as they attempt to return to normal business operations and embrace changes in the workplace. As companies adapt to fully or hybrid work arrangements, it seems WFH is here to stay. Therefore, the eCommerce industry will need to focus more of its efforts on B2C and D2C. 

What Goods Are Consumers Buying Online?

A 2020 study by J.P.Morgan states that eCommerce made up 16.1% of all U.S. sales in the second quarter, compared to 11.8% in the first quarter.1 This trend continues upward even as the majority of stores have reopened to the public. Remote and hybrid work schedules may result in permanent changes to how Americans work, live, and spend. So, what is the average consumer buying? More time at home has allowed the workforce to create unique spending habits.

Cleaning products

Covid-19 case numbers may be on the decline, but consumers are still spending money on cleaning supplies, including disinfecting wipes and sprays, gloves, masks, soap, and other essentials. Even as demand for cleaning products decreases from our stockpiling days during the height of the pandemic, people are still purchasing these items more than before. Shortages of essential items due to supply chain breakdowns resulted in many customers turning to online shopping to stock up. This forced eCommerce platforms to get creative with the increase in online shopping and logistics of delivery. A study out of IEEE discusses the impact of COVID-19 on digital platforms and how eCommerce is an effective method of buying and selling essential goods. With the help of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) technology, route mapping makes it possible for deliveries to occur quickly and safely.3 Digital platforms have leveraged technology to help everyday consumers purchase essential goods online.

Home Improvement

With employees spending more time at home, it’s no wonder that homeowners are completing projects they have been putting off. WFH flexibility makes getting projects done either by DIY or hiring a contractor easier. A study by Harvard University notes that in 2020 the economy shrank by 3.5%. However, spending on home projects was up 3%, almost $420 billion.2 How are consumers shopping for the materials needed to complete these home projects? Whether it’s a kitchen redo, home office build, or something else around the house, eCommerce provides the perfect B2C and D2C solutions to get the job done. However, the materials used in home improvement typically have a higher cost ratio. So, with more shopping done through eCommerce, businesses need to ensure consumers feel safe completing transactions online. The study out of IEEE also states how eCommerce businesses have adapted the use of secure digital wallets and blockchain technology. Blockchain technology allows eCommerce businesses to cut out intermediaries and distribute directly to the consumer.3

What Lessons Can Businesses Learn From WFH Culture

It seems WFH is here to stay as many employers continue to offer hybrid work schedules. Recent studies suggest 25% of all professional jobs in the U.S. will be remote by 2022, and opportunities to work remotely will continue to increase through 2023.4 It’s safe to say that some form of WFH will stick around for years to come, and with the continued flexibility of being home more often, eCommerce will only become more popular as an option for consumers. So what can businesses learn from pandemic era consumer habits? More consumers feel safe making purchases online because of improved digital wallets and blockchain and enhanced delivery with help from ML and AI. However, there are more lessons to be learned, including the importance of website optimization. With the influx of online shoppers, a business’ website is its most important asset. If the site cannot handle a large number of transactions each day, companies will lose sales. So, updating performance through user experience, omnichannel options, and bandwidth is a must. Business owners will need to start spending less on their real estate and more on the online marketplace.

It is undeniable that COVID-19 and WFH culture have changed the commerce landscape. Even businesses that have traditionally done well as solely brick and mortar need to prepare for an increased number of online consumer shopping. When businesses learn to embrace the recent changes in commerce habits rather than try to ignore them, they will be better suited not only to adapt to a new reality but to thrive in it. That’s why now is the perfect time for businesses to develop an effective eCommerce strategy for B2C and D2C.

Footnotes:

  1. https://www.jpmorgan.com/solutions/cib/research/covid-spending-habits
  2. https://www.jchs.harvard.edu/improving-americas-housing-2021
  3. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/9243379
  4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/robinryan/2022/01/05/2022-career-predictions-you-need-to-know-about/?sh=276d3e5b2f36

We Have Reached Cruising Altitude: Why Airports Need To Elevate Their Experiences

We Have Reached Cruising Altitude: Why Airports Need To Elevate Their Experiences

Airports are undergoing an evolution to improve the customer experience and generate profits. Realizing their potential to be more than just travel hubs, airports are exploring innovative ways to make guests feel safer, provide unique shopping experiences and make time in the terminal more meaningful. Imagine a space similar to a lounge or upscale shopping mall where travelers can relax, eat, drink and shop as they wait for their flights. Airports can provide a personal and stress-free experience through physical and virtual interaction based on passenger data. Deeper engagement made possible through digitalization and modernized infrastructure would allow airports to improve relationships with travelers.

Improving Airport Infrastructure 

The airport experience should be an enjoyable part of the journey rather than a processing station getting passengers to their destinations. Though many airports around the country are dated and offer limited shopping and dining options, there is a renewed focus on updating existing infrastructure as travelers return to airports following the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021 the U.S. Department of Transportation released US$76 million in grants to upgrade airport infrastructure. Although the offerings apply to only three U.S. airports right now, these are just the first of a series of more than 1,500 grants that will infuse US$3.2 billion into hundreds of airports around the country.1 Even without the grants, many cities are reimaging existing facilities to support an ever-growing number of travelers.

Focus On Health And Safety

In addition to improving airport facilities, lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic play a significant role in enhancing customer experience. Features such as automated passenger processing and touchless services have become increasingly popular. Passengers also desire a sense of space instead of overcrowded lines and limited seating. Airports, including Changi, are implementing bright colors, natural lighting, and large open spaces.3 With a focus on health, contactless TSA checkpoint entry and more open spaces have already begun changing the passenger experience.

Improving The Customer Journey With Data 

Airports can provide a more enjoyable customer experience by better understanding the movement of passengers through their airport journey. Data from WiFi, cameras, people counters and other data sources provides real-time information about movement, occupancy and standing time in various airport areas.2 These insights can help airports optimize staff schedules, reduce waiting times, reduce stress and encourage spending in retail locations. Additionally, data collected from guest WiFi networks enables targeted marketing from nearby retailers to be sent directly to passengers for an increased chance of making a sale.

Business Opportunities In Travel Retail

Modern airports recognize the critical economic role of travel retail for growth and development. They have the advantage of a captive audience looking for ways to pass the time. Airports offer brands an opportunity to maximize visibility and customer engagement. While most retail has shifted transactions and fulfillment online, physical airport storefronts can provide strong customer interaction.3 These retail spaces can display products and engage with customers in meaningful ways to aid in conversion and retention. By creating personalized and unique experiences, brands can expect further engagement and sales after customers leave the airport. 

Aligning Luxury With Everyday Products

Airports are undergoing renovations by designing footpaths and atriums to maximize exposure to retailers. Mass-market and luxury retailers are now joining popular duty-free stores, newsstands and gift shops. High-end luxury retailers see airport storefronts as a way to market their products to international audiences and generate more sales. According to Allied Market research, airport retail sales are expected to top US$40 billion by 2027, with perfume and cosmetics leading the way, then wine and spirits following.4 Luxury retailers have a massive potential for profit by opening shops within airports and targeting travelers who are shopping to pass the time.

Technology And Automation

Nowadays, most brands generate sales through digital marketplaces, and it’s the same for airport retail. However, airport storefronts benefit most from digital marketplaces that enable remote ordering and automated check-out. Currently, retail giant Hudson Group is testing Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology in select locations. These Hudson locations allow customers to tap a credit card on entry, pick out items, and exit, all while avoiding check-out lines.5 Automating the process allows for easy transactions and reduced labor costs. However, retailers must have a robust digital marketplace to handle all transactions. During the 2020 Black Friday holiday, customers spent US$160 million shopping on digital marketplaces powered by Mirakl, which maintained 100% uptime, showing the importance of having strong technology as demand increases.7 It’s also about using a combination of technology that gives retailers an edge. Other providers, including FetchyFox, offer intuitive digital marketplaces that enable speedy contactless shopping and features artificial intelligence (A.I.) for data collection.6 Using a digital marketplace with automation and data capabilities will help airport retailers keep up with demand and modernize their business strategy.

The Future Is Now

Airports worldwide are starting to elevate the travel experience. As COVID-19 fears are dissipating, passengers are eager to travel, and airports are busier than ever. Government funding is being used for improving infrastructure and health safety. Passengers want fewer crowds and more open spaces to relax while waiting for departures. They also want to shop, and the time-honored tradition of duty-free isn’t going away. In fact, airport retail is growing faster than ever and now includes high-end luxury brands. However, the traditional storefront is changing, and customers can now shop from digital marketplaces that offer more options, automation and no lines. This is the time for airports and consumer brands to join forces to create an unbelievable experience for everyone.

Footnotes

1)https://www.travelagewest.com/Industry-Insight/Business-Features/New-Airport-Upgrades-Will-Change-the-Air-Travel-Experience

2)https://skyfii.io/blog/how-data-can-help-convert-an-airport-passenger-into-a-retail-customer/

3)https://www.moodiedavittreport.com/sense-of-space-reimagining-the-airport-retail-experience-for-the-new-world/

4)https://www.barrons.com/amp/articles/a-luxury-retail-revival-at-airports-around-the-world-01628279303

5)https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210608005195/en/Hudson-Nonstop-Arriveshttps://skyfii.io/blog/how-data-can-help-convert-an-airport-passenger-into-a-retail-customer/-In-Chicago-Using-Amazon’s-Just-Walk-Out-Technology

6) https://www.fetchyfox.com/

7)https://blog.mirakl.com/mirakl-achieves-record-gmv-growth-extends-sizable-lead-in-the-enterprise-marketplace-category-in-2020

What’s in a name? Facebook, Meta, and trust in the metaverse

What’s in a name? Facebook, Meta, and trust in the metaverse

Towards the end of October 2021 Facebook announced big news: the corporate business was changing its name to Meta, while Facebook the social media platform would remain. 

Mark Zuckerberg has solid reasons for the rebrand. The company needed a broader title, now that it also includes Instagram, Whatsapp and Oculus VR as well as mobile web analytics company Onavo, and Messenger precursor Beluga. Meta reflects a new focus on the metaverse and demonstrates the ambition to lead the way in this future digital realm. As an aside, it’s also worth noting that Facebook the social media site is more popular than ever, but it’s not attracting young people like it used to. A shrewd operator like Zuckerberg knows that it’s better to shift focus when a successful product is at its peak rather than on the decline.

All of this makes sense. First imagined in a 1990s sci-fi novel and conjured up in movies from Total Recall to Wreck-It Ralph, the future metaverse is an exhilarating concept, a place of boundless possibilities and experiences. Zuckerberg wants his company to be its guiding light. Yet many people are sceptical. Was this really the deciding factor for the name change, or was it to distance the business from negative press? 

Trust in Facebook was already low after testimony from whistle-blower Frances Haugen hit the press, telling of polarizing algorithms, understaffing in key areas concerned with safety and a culture that ignored known problems. The rebrand hasn’t helped its cause. A survey by SightX reported that 37.5% of respondents did not believe the name change would bring any real changes to the organization. Many believe it was because of poor public perception, rather than to better fit the company’s future goals and vision. Still, 2022 is a new year and as people start to see the metaverse taking shape they may be more accepting of the reasons behind the rebrand. 

The good, the bad, and the need for regulation

Like Coca-Cola, Facebook the platform is nigh-on universal; open to anyone with internet access. Most of us have been Facebook users at one time or another and have had largely positive experiences. We’ve enjoyed its window into the lives of friends, family and colleagues, the way it has re-connected us with those we had lost touch with and enabled groups of people from all over the world to create communities around niche interests. But there’s no ignoring the bad stuff.

That bad stuff has been coming from all angles. Privacy and a lack of transparency over user data is one issue; the company’s low tax contributions is another. Cloning competitor apps like TikTok (Instagram Reels), and Snapchat (Facebook Stories), has also attracted criticism. Content moderators brought a lawsuit after reporting poor working conditions and post-traumatic stress disorder; some have now been compensated for their experiences

But the biggest concerns are to do with the disconnect between Facebook’s mission statement of bringing the world closer together, and the real-world damage caused to individuals, minority groups and sometimes entire nations because the business hasn’t done enough to take down and prevent the spread of fake news and harmful content.

A Wall Street Journal investigation found that changes to Facebook’s content algorithm stoked division and did not do enough to reduce Covid 19 vaccine hesitancy. In addition, Instagram was harming the mental health of teenage girls. UK natural beauty company Lush recently took the radical step of quitting Facebook and Instagram alongside Snapchat and TikTok, citing the negative impact the social media sites have on young people’s mental health.

Comments made by ex-members of Facebook staff together with the company’s own leaked research and that of many other organizations also suggest that not enough is being done to deal with misinformation and malign content. Former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya didn’t pull any punches about the seriousness of the issue, saying ‘We have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works’. 

Meta/Facebook stress that they make robust efforts to deal with negative content. The company has just announced the development of a new AI which is quick to ‘learn’ to spot harmful content, rather than taking months of training. 

However, the company has been criticised for placing too much emphasis on reacting to problems and not enough on preventing them. So far, AI does not seem to have been able to spot harmful content before the damage is done. Is it possible to do enough? And how can they be confident about policing behaviour in the future metaverse, with its billions of tiny interactions in every moment? We just don’t know the answers yet. 

Meta’s Horizon Worlds platform may provide a clue as to how moderation of the metaverse might work. Users in this colorful virtual space can report harmful behavior and send recorded data from their device as evidence. They can also activate a ‘safe zone’, a personal space where they can take time out and mute, block, or report users if necessary. Users can be suspended or permanently excluded if they are found to be breaking the rules. Community Guides with their own avatars inhabit the space and keep an eye on things. It’s a mostly reactive rather than preventative approach, but then it’s hard to see how prevention could work. Though some warning signs can be noted, we can’t – yet – predict crime in the way shown in Minority Report.

People might just have to accept that a future virtual world, like social media, reflects society and so will never be perfect. Techdirt editor Mike Masnick put it like this: content moderation is impossible to do well at scale, because in a situation where there are billions of interactions, even if 99.9% of content decisions are ‘right’, the 1% of ‘wrong’ decisions could still represent thousands of negative experience. It will be up to individuals to decide how much time they want to spend in the metaverse and, to a degree, how to keep themselves safe.  

But more regulation will be needed. Businesses exist to make money; it’s governments who must take charge of putting in measures for the sake of the public good. Future metaverse users will be under constant surveillance. VR headsets will be tracking what users see, hear, feel and how they react, both physically and mentally. This puts current concerns about how much Google and Facebook/Meta know about us in the shade. In the metaverse, users could be subject to a constant deluge of exceptionally nuanced marketing that taps directly into the emotions felt during virtual experiences. It needs regulation to ensure that users can control who their data is shared with and always know when they are being marketed to, whether they’re watching a video or talking to an avatar. Somehow, limits for manipulation, whether political or commercial, need to be set, so that people are free to enjoy the metaverse without fear of exploitation. 

The metaverse must be built

The consensus is that the Metaverse should be built by communities, rather than by one corporate entity with a guiding hand at best, or ultimate power at worst. Even Zuckerberg seems to agree, stating in his Meta Founder’s Letter that ‘The metaverse will not be created by one company. It will be built by creators and developers making new experiences and digital items that are interoperable and unlock a massively larger creative economy than the one constrained by today’s platforms and their policies’. Though it’s hard to see Facebook’s name change to Meta as anything other than an attempt to ‘own’ the space. 

Just in 2021, Meta spent $10 billion developing metaverse technologies. The company is creating 10,000 jobs in the EU as part of its growth program. It recently invested more than $50 million in non-profit groups to help ‘build the metaverse responsibly’. Other major players turning their attention to the metaverse are Epic Games, creator of Fortnite, Pokémon Go developer Niantic, graphics technology company Nvidia, blockchain-based virtual world Decentraland, Microsoft, and Apple. 

Meanwhile Elon Musk believes that his own Neuralink brain interface products will eventually offer a better way to experience virtual reality than spending much of the day trying to move around in a VR headset.

So, the issues of the future metaverse, the problems around trust, privacy, transparency, manipulation, and possible harassment are not just Meta’s to solve. All the more reason why it’s important that government regulations keep up with the technology. 

The metaverse will transform our lives. It could enrich our day-to-day experiences, and even reduce our environmental impact by allowing us to be ‘present’ in the office, ‘attend’ concerts hundreds of miles away, and ‘travel’ to see the world’s sites without ever leaving our homes. 

Like the internet in general, and social media in particular, the metaverse will hold a mirror up to our world. There’s extraordinary potential for good, and equally for bad. Meta and others cannot just go through the motions. To create trust, companies need to demonstrate that they are truly doing all they can to keep users safe. 

Above all, metaverse businesses and governments must work together to build the metaverse we want – a creative, inspiring space worthy of exploration, a place where we feel safe and protected, but have the freedom to make up our own minds. 

  1. Founder’s Letter, 2021, Meta, https://about.fb.com/news/2021/10/founders-letter/
  1. Facebook Wants To Attract Young People, But Gen Z Teens Say It’s A ‘Boomer Social Network’ Made For ‘Old People’, Insider, https://www.insider.com/facebook-gen-z-teens-boomer-social-network-leaks-2021-10
  1. This 29-Year-Old Book Predicted The ‘Metaverse’ — And Some Of Facebook’s Plans Are Eerily Similar, CNBC, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/03/how-the-1992-sci-fi-novel-snow-crash-predicted-facebooks-metaverse.html
  1. Facebook Whistleblower Hearing: Frances Haugen Calls For More Regulation Of Tech Giant – As It Happened, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/live/2021/oct/05/facebook-hearing-whistleblower-frances-haugen-testifies-us-senate-latest-news
  1. Facebook’s Name Change Receives Poor Marks In New Poll, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsegal/2021/10/29/facebooks-name-change-receives-poor-marks-in-new-poll/?sh=30c5c49a444b
  1. Facebook Will Pay $52 Million In Settlement With Moderators Who Developed PTSD On The Job, The Verge, https://www.theverge.com/2020/5/12/21255870/facebook-content-moderator-settlement-scola-ptsd-mental-health
  1. The Facebook Files: A Wall Street Journal Investigation, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-facebook-files-11631713039
  1. ‘I’m Happy To Lose £10m By Quitting Facebook,’ Says Lush Boss, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/nov/26/im-happy-to-lose-10m-by-quitting-facebook-says-lush-boss
  1. Ex-Facebook Executive Chamath Palihapitiya: Social Media Is ‘Ripping Apart’ Society CNBC (via YouTube), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MakEIlvlyfE
  1. Our New AI System to Help Tackle Harmful Content, Facebook/Meta, https://about.fb.com/news/2021/12/metas-new-ai-system-tackles-harmful-content/
  1. Horizon Community, Oculus, https://www.oculus.com/facebook-horizon/community
  1. Masnick’s Impossibility Theorem: Content Moderation At Scale Is Impossible To Do Well, Techdirt, https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20191111/23032743367/masnicks-impossibility-theorem-content-moderation-scale-is-impossible-to-do-well.shtml
  1. Founder’s Letter, 2021, Meta, https://about.fb.com/news/2021/10/founders-letter/
  1. Facebook Says It Expects Its Investment In The Metaverse To Reduce Its Profits By ‘Approximately $10 billion’ This Year, Insider, https://www.businessinsider.com/facebook-metaverse-investment-reduce-profits-by-10-billion-2021-10
  1. Investing in European Talent to Help Build the Metaverse, Facebook/Meta, https://about.fb.com/news/2021/10/creating-jobs-europe-metaverse/
  1. Building the Metaverse Responsibly, Facebook/Meta, https://about.fb.com/news/2021/09/building-the-metaverse-responsibly/
  1. Breakthrough Technology For The Brain, Neuralink, https://neuralink.com/

Elon Musk Sits Down With The Babylon Bee, The Babylon Bee (via YouTube) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BaRKd4U6Ixg

Why Retailers And Consumers Are Embracing The Buy Now, Pay Later Trend

Why Retailers And Consumers Are Embracing The Buy Now, Pay Later Trend

As the popularity of online shopping continues, buy now, pay later (BNPL) platforms are becoming a popular way for businesses to offer their customers flexible payment options. Though larger companies traditionally used this service, BNPL is becoming increasingly popular with companies of all sizes.1 Providers like Klarna, Affirm, and Afterpay enable shoppers to purchase products online from participating merchants and pay for them through a series of installments, often interest-free.2 This app-based hybrid version of layaway and credit is growing in popularity with retailers and consumers alike as brands like Amazon, Walmart, and Target offer installment plans to increase sales.

Buy Now, Pay Later is Gaining Momentum 

The continued growth of online shopping resulting from the pandemic has catapulted BNPL into the mainstream. While BNPL was gaining popularity leading up to the pandemic, BNPL deals exploded when retailers were forced to close brick and mortar stores. Covid-19 produced a shift in consumer spending habits as an increased number of consumers spent more time at home and embraced e-commerce.3 BNPL generated almost $100 billion in transactions in 2020 as millions of shoppers financed their purchases.4 The pandemic left millions of consumers out of work and in need of greater flexibility with their purchases, which increased the demand for easy online financing options. Unlike credit cards which were intended to be used multiple times, BNPL solutions are applied to individual transactions, which appeals to consumers wanting to make less of a financial commitment.

Advantages for Consumers

Consumers are more likely to make significant purchases if they can pay for them in installments rather than the total price upfront. Popular among people under thirty with tight finances and less available credit, consumers welcomed the ability to delay payment for goods and access financing.5 Many consumers see BNPL as an appealing alternative to racking up another high credit card balance. BNPL services claim they are a better alternative to traditional banking and credit cards because it is easy for consumers to get approved for this type of loan, even with a low credit score.6 Provided consumers stick to the payment terms, BNPL offers the chance to pay in interest-free installments. Though BNLP offers many advantages to all parties involved, consumers should ensure they understand the repayment terms. Late payments have the potential to affect an individual’s credit score, and customers who default on their payments may be banned from future purchases.7 BNPL is a loan, and consumers should plan their purchases with their income and expected expenditure in mind. 

Advantages to eCommerce

Just as BNPL is a preferred payment method for many consumers, it can also be useful for businesses. By integrating BNPL, companies can attract new shoppers, improve customer relations, and increase sales. It is important to provide many different payment options to give customers their preferred choices and appeal to as many potential first-time shoppers as possible.8 Consumers increasingly utilize BNPL platforms, which means companies willing to work with BNPL providers will appeal to a new set of customers. Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to use BNPL platforms when shopping online than any other age group, so if a business is interested in attracting these age groups, they should strongly consider using a BNPL platform.9 Additionally, customers are more likely to return to a business that offers BNPL options, and with so many companies providing this service, it is essential to remain competitive. 

BNPL delivers a quick and straightforward payment process and is a viable alternative to traditional payment methods. BNPL platforms allow a business to get paid in full immediately, while the consumer has the instant gratification of receiving the product directly at a low upfront cost. In exchange for providing interest-free loans to customers, these platforms take only around 5%-6% of the purchase cost from retailers.10 If the customer does not make the payment on time or the payment is not collected, businesses do not have to worry about lost revenue. 

Why Buy now, pay later platforms can be a valuable tool for both businesses and consumers. The potential for BNPL platforms to drive sales and increase income with no risk to the company is an appealing prospect, and customer demand for this payment method is high. While consumers must be mindful of their purchases and not spend beyond their means, BNPL can be a great way to finance items if used responsibly. With research from Kaleido Intelligence estimating that online consumers will double the amount of money they spend using BNPL to $680 billion by 2025, there is a massive opportunity for businesses to profit.11 BNPL is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Footnotes

1) https://www.paymentsjournal.com/buy-now-pay-later-what-businesses-need-to-know/

2)https://www.wsj.com/articles/when-to-buy-now-pay-later-and-when-to-just-pay-now-11631957401

3)https://www.cnbc.com/2021/09/21/how-buy-now-pay-later-became-a-100-billion-industry.html?utm_term=Autofeed&utm_medium=Social&utm_content=Tech&utm_source=Facebook#Echobox=1636972847

4)https://www.forbes.com/sites/ronshevlin/2021/09/07/buy-now-pay-later-the-new-payments-trend-generating-100-billion-in-sales/

5) https://www.paymentsjournal.com/buy-now-pay-later-what-businesses-need-to-know/

6)  https://www.investopedia.com/buy-now-pay-later-5182291

7)https://www.wsj.com/articles/when-to-buy-now-pay-later-and-when-to-just-pay-now-11631957401

8)https://www.paymentsjournal.com/buy-now-pay-later-what-businesses-need-to-know/

9)​​https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/07/why-millennials-and-gen-zs-are-jumping-on-the-buy-now-pay-later-trend.html

10)https://gocardless.com/en-au/guides/posts/how-does-buy-now-pay-later-affect-your-business/

11)https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200922005066/en/Buy-Now-Pay-Later-Digital-Spend-Led-by-Klarna-PayPal-Afterpay-to-Double-by-2025-Reaching-680-Billion—Kaleido-Intelligence

Exploring The World Of Online Payments

Exploring The World Of Online Payments

The saying “cash is king” is still true today. However, the use of physical currency is declining as more online payment options become available. The physical dollar, euro, pound, yen, and others are being used less in transactions. Instead, businesses are enabling customers to pay through digital payment processors. Why are businesses making the shift from accepting physical currency to digital payments? In the past, it was commonplace to see a sign on many storefronts reading “cash only.” During the COVID-19 lockdown, most storefronts shut down and converted their business online, eCommerce was booming. Now, with most storefronts opened back up to the public, many are opting to stick with digital payments. It makes sense to use online payment options because we live in a global economy, and digital transactions can help businesses reach consumers worldwide. However, online transactions don’t come without concerns, and some skeptics believe they could pose security risks. Luckily, different payment options are available that can help mitigate the overall risks. 

Digital Wallets

According to Investopedia, a digital wallet securely stores users’ financial information through a software-based system. Digital wallets can be adapted by financial institutions and payment processors, such as PayPal.1 Banks can use digital wallets through mobile applications that allow users to deposit checks, transfer funds and pay bills. Payment processors make it easy and secure to pay and get paid through online digital wallets. For consumers, many payment processors offer buyer protection to help combat fraud, and businesses can invoice customers worldwide in all currencies with a click of a button. Most smartphones also have a digital wallet feature that allows users to store their credit and debit card information securely, so there’s no need to carry a physical card.

Cryptocurrencies

Cryptocurrencies are becoming increasingly prevalent worldwide, and many countries are considering ways to include them within local economies. An article from the Atlantis Press discusses how cryptocurrency uses technology that secures transactions making it difficult to falsify. This is accomplished through online transactions that include unique encrypted algorithms. Many countries, including Indonesia, are searching for ways to replace conventional money with cryptocurrency. Unlike traditional money, cryptocurrency is not created by a central bank or government, which prevents interference from the state.2 This is particularly useful for the developing world or unstable governments. For eCommerce, cryptocurrencies provide a secure way for consumers to purchase goods worldwide. The true potential of cryptocurrency has yet to be seen, but with online payments increasing, it’s bound to be a top contender.

Blockchain

Often blockchain is referred to when talking about cryptocurrency, but this digital transaction system can be used for so much more. So, what is blockchain? According to Forbes, blockchain can help prevent hacking and cheating because it uses identical copies of its database with each transaction. The blockchain digital ledger can store data from online payments, NFT ownership and smart contracts. Unlike traditional databases, blockchain is entirely decentralized.3 Blockchain can be used in many digital transactions, including cryptocurrency, traditional currency (dollar, euro, etc.) and asset transfer (inheritance, real estate, etc.).

Online payments aren’t going anywhere. The growing global eCommerce industry depends on having reliable and secure digital transactions for consumers. This is the time for businesses to expand their online payment options. Whether primarily brick and mortar or exclusively eCommerce, adding the ability to pay with cryptocurrency or through a digital wallet and blockchain will provide opportunities to attract new customers.

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Footnotes

  1. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/digital-wallet.asp
  2. https://www.atlantis-press.com/proceedings/iclave-19/125937703
  3. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/investing/what-is-blockchain/

NFT Artworks Find Their Place in the Metaverse

NFT Artworks Find Their Place in the Metaverse

In March of 2021, American digital artist Mike Winkelmann, otherwise known as Beeple, made history. His artwork, Everydays: the first 5000 days, was the first non-fungible token (NFT) ever to be auctioned by a major auction house1. Sold by Christie’s for a head-spinning $69,346,250, it became, to date, the fourth most expensive artwork by a living artist2. Numerous platforms such as Opensea and Rarible provide places to buy and sell NFTs costing anything from the equivalent of a few dollars to millions. 

NFTs are a revolutionary new art form for artists, musicians, and makers. For the benefit of those who haven’t already fallen down the crypto-art rabbit hole, an NFT is a unique digital asset or token, a ‘proof of ownership’ on a piece of digital art. They can be bought, sold, collected, and displayed in virtual or physical galleries. Because they are recorded and stored on the blockchain, there is a permanent record of authenticity, ownership and transactions related to the asset. Just one NFT, or several, might be ‘minted’ (created) for a digital artwork, an analogy in the physical world might be a one-off painting, vs a print in a limited number of editions. NFT owners can also action fractionalized ownership, allowing a multitude of people to each own a ‘piece’ of perhaps a very valuable artwork. Art, photography, animation, video, music, cartoon cats, tweets, any of these can become the basis of an NFT, and some rapidly become highly valued. This very new market is awash with possibilities but has numerous challenges too. 

A new world of opportunities for artists and creators

Creating NFTs give artists and musicians a chance to connect with a new audience, selling their work directly with no need for agents or dealers. It’s an opportunity not just for those who don’t yet have industry connections, but also for many whose lifestyles are marginalized in their own countries, allowing a freedom of expression that may not be possible or even legal at home. Artists can always see the latest value of their work, as each NFT has a public ledger of its creation and ownership history, whereas in the physical world it’s easy to lose track as art is bought and sold. Even better, creators can opt to automate a royalty paid on their work, so that every time it is sold on, a percentage of the price will come back to them. 

Barriers to entry are low to moderate, though not non-existent. A digital artist won’t need to rent a studio to work in (unless their NFTs are based on physical paintings or sculpture that require space). Instead, they’ll need access to the internet and some cryptocurrency, most likely Ethereum as this is the blockchain the majority of NFTs are stored on. This is necessary to cover the costs involved in verifying and processing transactions and might work out to between $50-400 per asset or collection of them. Once armed with cryptocurrency, a would-be NFT artist just chooses which platform they want to use to mint and sell their wares. 

A new means of support for museums, galleries, and charities

As well as providing a new revenue stream for artists, NFTs are raising funds for museums around the world and other non-profit organizations.

In Russia, St Petersburg’s State Heritage Museum is creating a limited edition of NFTs created from masterpieces in its own art collection, including works by Leonardo Da Vinci, Monet and Van Gogh. The project, titled ‘Your token is kept in the Hermitage’ is intended not only to raise funds but also to provide a new kind of accessibility to the museum’s collection and lend gravitas to the idea of collecting digital art3. In Italy, after months of revenue loss due to the pandemic, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence created a one-off edition of Doni Tondo by Michelangelo, selling it in May 2021 for $170,000. Hot on the heels of that success, the gallery is now minting NFTs for works including Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus4

Meanwhile, reference book publisher Merriam-Webster minted ‘The Definition of NFT’ and raised around $48,000 for children’s education charity Teach for All5, while NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden worked with photographer Platon Antoniou on a portrait that raised $5.4 million for the Freedom of the Press Foundation6

NFTs are not only making headlines and raising funds, in the future they may also make museum collections more accessible. Even large museums often only have the space to keep a small percentage of their works on show. Creating NFTs can open up the wider collection to people all around the world. 

NFTs and their place in the Metaverse

But one of the most fascinating things about NFTs based on art and collectables is their status as elements in the ‘Metaverse’, a concept set to transform our world in the next decades just as the internet did in the last 20 years. The future Metaverse is a shared, inter-operable digital space containing all the virtual worlds we know, not only in gaming but also social media, ecommerce, education, and recreation, with its own economy and experiences. Sometimes it may be in VR, resembling a next-generation Second Life, sometimes it might be AR, where digital elements are overlaid onto our physical world. Mark Zuckerberg sees it as a means of accessing ‘presence’ in the digital realm, imagining our future Zoom calls with holograms of colleagues, or loved ones seemingly sat right next to us7. At this early stage no one, not even Zuckerberg, can be quite sure what the Metaverse is. Although it was named nearly 30 years ago in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash8, the word doesn’t even feature in the current Merriam-Webster or Cambridge dictionaries. 

What we can be sure of however is that NFTs, and galleries in which to view them, will feature in the Metaverse, because they’re already here. Individual Metaverses created largely to display NFTs already exist. This year multinational auction house Sotheby’s opened a prime-location gallery within Decentraland9, the ‘virtual destination for digital assets’, while CryptoVoxels allows users to build stores, museums and galleries in a Minecraft-like environment. In both cases these spaces have their own economies: users can buy ‘land’ with cryptocurrency, ‘hire’ a digital architect to build out their spaces and sell NFTs once they’ve created them. This is a whole new world of art, enabling people all over the world to ‘teleport in’, ‘visit’ galleries and see famous artworks without having to get a visa or pay for a flight. One day the hope is that all these individual Metaverses will link up, allowing people to move seamlessly between different experiences. 

The issues still to solve in the new ‘Wild West’: identity, property, and theft

The industry is in its infancy and there are a number of legal and security issues still to be ironed out. Theft is a problem; with not much to stop someone ‘stealing’ a digital artwork and minting it into an NFT. There’s plenty of reported instances of this happening, from people finding false ‘verified accounts’ offering their own work to the heart-breaking story of the Japanese artist whose work was tokenized after her death10. Platforms will take down NFTs based on stolen artwork, and once deceit is discovered an NFT is discredited, but it can be akin to fighting a forest fire, stamp out one and more pop up elsewhere. 

In March 2021 hackers stole thousands of dollars’ worth of artwork from NFT marketplace NiftyGateway from users who had neglected to set up two-step authentication on their accounts11. A month later an anonymous artist known as Monsieur Personne ‘sleepminted’ a copy of Beeple’s market-busting Everydays: the first 5,000 days, creating a token that looked like it had been created by Beeple but wasn’t and proving that even NFTs can be fakes12. No doubt all NFT marketplaces are working on ways to stay one step ahead of bad actors. 

In this largely unregulated space, tax evasion and money laundering are also potential problems. The IRS sees NFTs as a tax evasion risk, since in theory people using cryptocurrency to buy and sell NFTs may be liable for tax during different parts of the process. Because the ‘value’ of an NFT is subjective, it’s also not too difficult to collude with others, for instance selling an NFT for a hyped-up price to an associate, in order to collect ill-gotten crypto gains. Existing laws may cover some issues but as so often happens, the regulators need to catch up with the technology. 

A greener, more sustainable future for NFTs

Like many new art forms throughout history, NFTs have caused controversy, much of it centred around environmental impact. Most are built on the Ethereum blockchain, which is ‘mined’ using the energy-heavy ‘Proof of worth’ system to ensure security. It’s hard to calculate exactly how much energy creating an NFT might use, but it’s been estimated that one Ethereum transaction consumes as much electricity as the average U.S. household uses in just under five days13. Some artists have attempted to make their NFTs carbon neutral by offsetting potential emissions caused by energy use. Opinions differ on how effective this really is. 

The good news is that the Ethereum Foundation and others are already finding solutions to radically reduce the amount of energy needed by NFTs in the first place. Ethereum has been working on a move from the electricity-guzzling ‘Proof of work’ system to the far more efficient ‘Proof of stake’ for some years. A 2022 upgrade promises to cut energy use by more than 99%14. In the meantime, some artists are choosing to use Tezos, Wax and other energy-efficient blockchain alternatives to Ethereum, including the British artist Damien Hirst who is using Palm for his monumental new enterprise, The Currency Project, comprising 10,000 oil paintings on paper, each accompanied by its NFT15. In terms of both legal and environmental issues, it is of course in the interests of the entire industry to find solutions, whether through regulation or by vastly reducing its environmental impact. 

Some people, particularly those who came of age before the digital revolution, struggle to get their heads around the idea of NFTs. How can anyone assess their value? If things only exist as pixels, do they really exist at all?  But this exciting realm is awash with possibilities, not only putting a value on digital art, but opening up to artists and audiences who are entirely new while creating an economy and an ecosystem already worth billions of dollars. With individual Metaverses like Decentraland already offering a ‘place’ to view NFTs in the virtual world, this is no mere fad. As the Metaverse comes of age these experiences will become mainstream. So perhaps it’s time to start breeding those CryptoKitties – NFTs are here to stay. 

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Footnotes

1. Beeple’s Opus: Created Over 5,000 Days By The Groundbreaking Artist, This Monumental Collage Was The First Purely Digital Artwork (NFT) Ever Offered At Christie’s, Christies, https://www.christies.com/features/Monumental-collage-by-Beeple-is-first-purely-digital-artwork-NFT-to-come-to-auction-11510-7.aspx

2. Beeple’ NFT Sold For $69 million Is The Fourth Most Expensive Artwork Sold By A Living Artist, Cryptoslate, https://cryptoslate.com/beeple-nft-sold-for-69-million-is-the-fourth-most-expensive-artwork-sold-by-a-living-artist/

3. Tokenized Art From The State Hermitage Museum, Including Leonardo Da Vinci, Will Be Featured On The Binance NFT Marketplace, The State Hermitage Museum, https://nftcalendar.io/tokenized-art-from-the-state-hermitage-museum-including-leonardo-da-vinci-will-be-featured-on-the-binance-nft-marketplace/

4. Uffizi Sells Artworks As NFTS To Recover Losses, The Art Insider, https://www.art-insider.com/uffizi-sells-artworks-as-nfts-to-recover-losses/2238

5. The Definition Of NFT, Opensea, https://opensea.io/assets/0x495f947276749ce646f68ac8c248420045cb7b5e/13014153790550692438812020292530308527796599818332639642513535596840089550849

6. Historic Snowden NFT Auction Benefits Freedom Of The Press Foundation, Freedom of the Press Foundation, https://freedom.press/news/historic-snowden-nft-auction-benefits-freedom-of-the-press-foundation/

7. Mark In The Metaverse: Facebook’s CEO On Why The Social Network Is Becoming ‘A Metaverse Company’ https://www.theverge.com/22588022/mark-zuckerberg-facebook-ceo-metaverse-interview

8. Snow Crash, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_Crash

9. Sotheby’s Opens A Virtual Gallery In Decentraland, Decentraland, https://decentraland.org/blog/announcements/sotheby-s-opens-a-virtual-gallery-in-decentraland/

10. An Artist Died. Then Thieves Made NFTs Of Her Work, Wired, https://www.wired.co.uk/article/nft-fraud-qinni-art

11. People Are Reporting Thousands Of Dollars Worth Of Crypto Art Was Stolen On An NFT Marketplace, Business Insider, https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/currencies/stolen-nfts-on-nifty-gateway-reports-nft-art-marketplace-2021-3,

12. A New $69 Million NFT Was Sleepminted, NFTheft, https://nftheft.com/

13. Ethereum Energy Consumption Index, Digiconomist, https://digiconomist.net/ethereum-energy-consumption/

14. A Country’s Worth Of Power, No More!, Ethereum Foundation Blog, https://blog.ethereum.org/2021/05/18/country-power-no-more/

15. 1The Currency By Damien Hirst Is Now Live On HENI, Palm, https://palm.io/studio/the-currency-by-damien-hirst-is-now-live-on-heni/