The Internet started out as a computer network to share information between select individuals in the 1970s and 80s. Today, more than half the world’s population has Internet access and they are using it for more than just information search. From commerce to education to socializing (to list a few ‘offerings’), the Internet has increased its functionalities and transformed into a more robust platform. However, the field of business and commerce is one of the many which has been greatly impacted by the Internet’s establishment.
As the number of Internet users continues to swell, more businesses are establishing their presence online to reach out and interact with their customers. Gone are the days when companies would solely rely on their brick and mortar stores for revenues. Some have gone as far as ditching their physical stores and moved their entire business front on the Internet.
Not only has the Internet changed the way the business is conducted, it has also introduced several new offerings (most technology-based services), which would not have been possible without the Internet’s presence. Similarly, the Internet has also created new channels for businesses to engage with their customers – giving rise to digital marketing and advertisement.
Whenever the words ‘Internet’ and ‘Business’ are brought up, one’s mind often conjures e-commerce. The Internet has now become a marketplace. From brands selling directly to consumers online, to independent companies functioning as a marketplace and selling products of various brands, the Internet offers users countless purchase options. The entire shopping experience has changed – customers can make purchases and look for the best deals (products, prices, etc.) as per their convenience.
Companies often sell online to drive down prices/be price-competitive by reducing costs (which are incurred from physical stores) as well as increase their customer outreach. Even ‘traditional’ (non-ecommerce) retail businesses such as Walmart – the world’s largest retailer – are going online and experiencing strong sales and growth, despite the online retail market being dominated by ecommerce companies such as Amazon. This goes to show how large a marketplace the Internet is; that almost anyone can do good business – provided they implement the right strategies. Unsurprisingly, the global retail ecommerce industry in 2017 alone had annual sales of US$2.3 trillion, with the figure expected to double by 2021.
Similarly, the Internet is also a platform upon which services are built and cater to the customers’ demands. There are a few ways this is being done. First, the Internet serves as a ‘service medium’. Many software and IT companies are migrating their services and software to the Internet. Gone are the days when the solutions have to be on-premise (installed on the company’s computers); the Internet has created a ‘cloud’ platform – one which does not physically exist on the company’s premises – yet functions as good (if not better) as the on-premise solutions. Users simply connect to the Internet and login into the software/service’s website and can utilize the software from any geographic location.
Then come the various tools which add value upon the Internet’s existing ‘offerings’ (typically different types of websites), as add-on services. These tools are available as apps and/or extensions on web-browsers. Take for example a page monitoring tool. This allows users to track changes to entire webpages or particular sections of the page, and the users get notifications once the tool detects a change in the specified element.
Businesses can use the tool to track customer reviews or competitors’ offerings, marketers could monitor social media and online channels, and customers could use it to be notified of deals and discounts. There is so much going on (and constantly evolving) over the Internet, and such tools offer value to businesses and customers, allowing them to improve their operations and deals, based on the activities on online platforms and websites (such as e-commerce and social media).
As the number of Internet users grows, companies and marketers are utilizing the Internet as a marketing medium to reach the masses. Marketing has evolved more than just print or broadcast advertising; companies are creating specialized teams and strategies to market over the Internet. And online marketing is not just for online businesses; several brick and mortar businesses are also marketing over the Internet.
Customers are the driving force behind the shift to digital marketing. As people are spending more time on social media platforms (one of the most popular digital marketing channels), companies are using these platforms to engage with customers, thus building a stronger relation with customers than traditional marketing methods. In addition, approximately half the millennial population confessed that their purchase decisions are influenced by what they see online and on social media platforms, making them go-to advertising mediums.
Forecasts show that in 2018, online platforms will overtake television as the most preferred medium of advertisements (37.6% of the entire global advertising industry spend vs. 35.9% for television). This is indicative of a shift in preference of businesses to move from traditional to digital marketing initiatives (not just advertising). The digital advertising and marketing spending globally is expected to reach US$310 billion annually by 2020.
The Internet. A marketplace; a platform to build services on; a marketing medium. To say the Internet has disrupted business would be an understatement. Not only have businesses changed the way they operate in the age of the Internet, it has allowed for newer services to be created which were previously not possible. This article has not even scratched the surface of how the Internet has changed business; properly gauging the impact of how businesses have been impacted by the Internet would be a Sisyphean task, not least due to the depth of the Internet’s broad set of functionalities and penetration (both are ever-increasing) into business and commerce.