Tech titans reshape retail

What’s next from Amazon, Apple, Google, eBay and Facebook?

By Lori Schafer, SAS Executive Advisor for Retail

Every now and again, a company or technology comes along that dramatically shakes up an industry – or makes it obsolete (just ask the good folks who used to be at Blockbuster, Kodak or Borders).


Over the last decade, five companies have emerged with the potential to aggressively reshape the landscape of multiple industries – and to change life as we know it. They are the tech titans: Amazon, Apple, Google, eBay and Facebook.

Collectively, these five companies are worth more than a trillion dollars. Their growth, their cash and their vision make them formidable competitors and complex partners. And while some of their conquests are already in the history books (Apple’s reinvention of music sales, for one), other potential conquests are just emerging.

The tech titans are in an all-out war with each other, and the fallout will affect society in ways we haven’t yet imagined. These organizations don’t recognize borders; they feel no qualms about marching beyond the walls of tech into retailing, advertising, publishing, movies, television, communications, financial services, and even into health care and insurance. Here’s a quick overview of how they’ve changed retail:


The company’s ability to sell virtually anything online helped coin the term “showrooming,” the practice of visiting a brick-and-mortar retailer to view a product, then ordering it from Amazon. Together with Apple, it’s reshaped book retailing. Now it’s taking a swing at the publishing industry, producing TV shows and experimenting with its own showroom stores. Amazon’s one-click shopping has forced other retailers to be more mobile-friendly. And its cloud service has changed how companies purchase storage. Amazon’s now focused on providing same-day shipping within the next 12-18 months.


Been to a record store lately? Probably not, thanks to Apple. Apple revolutionized the music industry with the iPod®, and next the mobile industry with the iPhone®, which spawned clones like the Google Android. Every retailer aspires to be omnichannel, always present wherever the consumer is and whenever the consumer wants to buy. Apple’s probably the best example. Its stores are like an adult Disney World, where you can order online and pick up any item within 12 minutes – and even check yourself out on your own mobile device.


When you’ve got the world’s No. 1 search engine, you’ve got insight into everything – from where the flu is circulating to where people are looking for comprehensive car insurance. Google is using its search capabilities to move into the sales aggregation world with its Google insurance shopping service – and is even advising health care providers. With geolocation search, Google can tell consumers where to find a particular product within X number of miles down to how many feet away a particular item is that they might want. And as Kansas City residents dwelling in Google “fiberhoods” can tell you, Google Fiber is providing Internet service slated to be 100 times the speed of current connections.


If you still think of eBay as a site for people selling their used kids’ clothes, think again. Practically every retailer now needs to play on eBay’s marketplace. EBay has innovated for mobile with one of the best mobile sites available. And eBay’s PayPal service has become the way for consumers to pay on mobile, online and even in-store. Many retailers are rolling out PayPal at point-of-sale terminals so that customers can pay via their PayPal accounts. Along with Amazon, eBay is venturing into same-day delivery services.


Like Google, Facebook knows what you and everyone else are talking about. The stock nose-dived after an overinflated IPO, but Facebook has figured out how to use its information for advertising and still keep consumers happy. Now every company that advertises to consumers needs to be on Facebook. And at this point, its market capitalization is well above its IPO, and Facebook’s advertising model is performing well.

What can retailers do?

1. Study the tech titans.
This message is for the larger retailers, companies that have $1 billion or more in retail sales. These large retailers should have someone assigned to study the tech titans closely and understand how they’re innovating, particularly within retail. Not all of the tech titans are retailers, but they’re all affecting retail.

2. Make the most of analytics.
The tech titans all use advanced analytics to better run their businesses. It is critical that retailers, large and small, infuse analytics into all of their business processes. That’s the world we’re living in now, and if you’re not tapping into your data with analytic technologies, you’re going to get
left behind.

3. Know your own business.
The tech titans can afford to play around and test out innovative ideas and technologies. Retailers don’t have that same luxury and need to focus first on their own business strategy and find the technologies that will work best for them.

One example of a good, focused retail initiative is Walgreens. The Walgreens mobile app lets consumers refill prescriptions by scanning the prescription code. The app also lets them send photos from their mobile devices for printing and pickup at stores. Another good example is Wal-Mart. If consumers opt in, Wal-Mart can track where they are in the store and deliver ads for specific products.

It’s an exciting world out there for retailers, but when I speak with retail executives, I can see that it’s also daunting and, perhaps at first, a little frightening. Retailers that want to survive need to know how to thrive in the new world that consumers are embracing – and that the titans are creating.


Lori Schafer, SAS Executive Advisor for Retail, has nearly 30 years of experience in retail and consumer-packaged-goods marketing, merchandising and technology. She is co-author of the business book best-seller Branded! How Retailers Engage Consumers with Soical Media and Mobility.

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Who are the next tech titans?

Technology companies rise and fall quickly. So who should be on your radar as the next tech titans? It’s probably two kids in a garage in Silicon Valley, but here are four companies to keep your eye on:

Alibaba, a massive Internet company in China, is focused on competing directly with Amazon, eBay, Amazon Cloud and Rackspace services – and directly with PayPal in terms of payment.

Rakuten is also focused on unseating Amazon. It’s Japan’s biggest Internet company, with a sales portfolio that spans entertainment, travel, financial advisory services and retail marketplaces.

Samsung is going head-to-head with Apple and already has a market cap somewhere in the range of $175 billion.

LinkedIn has more than $25 billion in sales and is ranked as one of America’s fastest-growing tech companies.

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