Disruptors at the gate

Global technology news, of Walmart planning a potential bid for TikTok in the US, or Instagram’s decision to allow buy buttons, are indicative of trends that traditional boundaries across industries will gradually become less and less, with disruption and disruptors emerging from all corners. The consequent disruption is both an opportunity and a challenge depending on one’s perception.
The twentieth century was defined by clear demarcation between industries inter se, and the hallmark of some of the biggest businesses was the concept of “vertical integration” from the commodity trading giants to the big oil companies. The ability, capital and intent to vertically integrate created some of the largest businesses globally. For the twenty-first century, however, agile technology-driven platforms that can go and operate in a variety of industries may eventually emerge as the winners of tomorrow. The ability to create structures, products and value propositions for consumers that span a wide variety of industries will be a large determinant of who captures the largest component of the consumer’s wallet. Being a “tech” company isn’t necessary but utilising technology to scale and create value is a must.
At a fundamental level, the consumer’s engagement and spending are what all industries would try to win over since businesses opened shop centuries back, technology has only allowed companies a way to capture a larger market share through innovative systems and solutions.
A look at Instagram’s decision to introduce a buy button is both expected and in line with what the broader market expected. However, the decision for social media buying, or discovery-based buying, has as much a ramification for the alternative search based buying that global giants such as Google dominate. Both Instagram and Google remain, in essence, technology businesses, howsoever different their search funnels might be. That said, Instagram’s decision puts further pressure on retail real estate businesses globally. Therefore, Instagram, a social discovery application having a potentially broader impact on Global retail real estate, is an example of the far-reaching disruption that technology-enabled solutions will have across industries.
Additionally, if Instagram buying were to gain scale, how would this impact the industrial warehousing real estate market? Understanding the microstructure of the buying process is critical for a better and greater appreciation of “how the buying happens” will significantly impact the “related infrastructure”.
To state the obvious, goods when bought have to be shipped from the producer to the end-user. The structure around buying determines the infrastructure needed for fulfillment. If a technology company that allows buyers and sellers to transact gains scale, then the logistics infrastructure that will thrive will be one in which individual sellers are fulfilling varied client orders. The need may be for industrial real estate and transportation that allows for a large number of sellers and buyers to transact. The infrastructure on both the warehousing and transportation side will be significantly different if a shopping platform is one that has centralised fulfilment. Essentially, while buyers and sellers transact, the centralised marketplace takes care of the fulfilment through centralised warehouses. Therefore, the development of technology and the evolution of businesses has a significant impact on the type of transportation and real estate asset that does well.
As we can see, even within industries, the type of assets that do better will be highly influenced by the technologies and business strategies that emerge as the winners. Hence, a real estate or logistics business may not be disrupted by another player from within the industry but by technology trends sweeping through related sectors. The advent of ubiquitous digital connectivity has only hastened the process of disruption.
While disruption remains a reality, the other side of the coin is an opportunity. The news regarding Walmart considering a joint bid for TikTok in the US shows that a retail business might look at entertainment and gaming as the next frontier with which to do more retail. Alternatively, industries such as entertainment and retail that were historically so far removed may start converging at a rapid pace. If gaming platforms and entertainment platforms have so much of consumer engagement, the fact that retailers can both capture consumer attention and wallets is evident. While the way the sectors merge is something that is still in the works and given the fluid nature of technology will always evolve, the future holds significant possibilities for industries to integrate and converge.
As the 21st century plays out, the more significant role of technology is obvious. However, the ability of innovators to not just create value within their industries but much beyond will be the real game-changers over the next few decades.

(The author heads Development Tracks, an advisory firm. You can contact him at taponeel.mukherjee@development-tracks.com. The views expressed in this article are personal and that of the author)

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