The Internet has been around for a generation, but its economic potential is still only just being realised. Global connectivity has made it possible for working professionals, businesses, and end consumers to interact with far fewer barriers than in the past. While that’s been true for years, that connectivity is only maturing to a point where it can be effectively leveraged today.
As online financial tools and marketplaces become sufficiently complex, they’re allowing individual service professionals to compete globally against traditional businesses. Further, e-commerce is finally reaching a stage where it can meaningfully begin to challenge brick-and mortar stores for dominance of the retail market.
Financing is faster online
Getting financing to cover cash flow disruptions, to pursue a growth opportunity, or to launch a business used to take weeks or months. Moving money internationally to pay for goods or services was similarly complicated and often expensive. This made it very difficult for many small businesses to operate and compete with larger enterprises.
Today, Fifo Capital and similar financial institutions can process an application for funding within a day, even despite taking the time to advise applicants on what their best financing options might be. Small business owners can take advantage of a wide variety of financing options like invoice financing, stock loans, or customer payment plans virtually at will. Besides that, other financial services allow businesses and private individuals to make free or low-cost international payment transfers and exchanges, making it possible for even small businesses to operate internationally with minimal friction.
Networking services choke traditional businesses
Finding the right person to do a job used to be a major issue. If you needed a graphic designer for a project, you would need to first find a reputable graphic design firm from the limited information available to you. That meant consulting with peers for references, or looking in the phone book. The pool of options was very limited and localiSed, and was biased quite heavily toward large, well-established businesses who could rely on their high profile to bring in clients.
A huge number of widely variable online startups work specifically to address this: They network service providers with consumers when both are ready to do business. Though their purpose is relatively simple, these types of services can be endlessly adapted and specialised for different specific niches. By making it easier for freelancers and private contractors to reach potential clients, they challenge the established brands that relied on their brand’s visibility to draw new customers.
For example, Uber and other ridesharing apps are challenging taxi industries around the world, without owning a single vehicle. They’re not a taxi company, but just a mobile app designed to allow quick and secure short-term business arrangements with independent drivers. Similarly, a service like Upwork functions like a more general global labour marketplace. By allowing clients to access individual professionals, they replace the traditional middle men that stood between the two: The larger business that would have employed that professional and attracted the client in the past.
E-commerce is replacing brick and mortar
E-commerce giants like Amazon, Ebay, and later Alibaba effectively brought e-commerce to the general public. One of their major selling points was that they allowed users to purchase a wide variety of products without submitting their personal information and credit card numbers to many potentially disreputable businesses. They rapidly took on an enormous share of online sales, but that was only the beginning of the story. Despite the size of these businesses, they only make up a relatively small portion of global retail sales.
These giants allow producers to sell their products on a more global scale, but they aren’t a complete answer to traditional brick and mortar retail stores. Someone looking for specific advice on a product, or a more personal purchasing experience in general, wouldn’t be well served with an online retail giant. Small merchants still have an important niche to fill. With the maturing safety of, and increased public trust in, online payment options like PayPal and Google Wallet they can do so online
Smaller e-commerce enterprises are increasingly springing up to fill the gap, and make up over 50% of all online sales today. These are often run by producers themselves, or by more specialised online merchants that aggregate selections from a variety of producers. Incidentally, these smaller merchants effectively echo the service experience offered by traditional stores, while operating with a much more efficient business model.
While most of the world’s business still isn’t done online today, it’s important to realise that the real impact that the web is having on the world’s economy is only starting to be felt now. As labour markets, SMEs, and end consumers realise the potential that the Internet offers them in terms of finding each other, they continue to power the feedback loop that has allowed it to grow so rapidly in the last decade.