In a hyper-accelerated online world, the notion of a slideshow seems rather quaint — except when it’s wielded by Bond Capital’s Mary Meeker, whose State of the Internet presentation is one of tech’s most anticipated of the year.
If the Internet really is a highway, then Meeker’s annual reports are the mile markers.
At Code Conference, the VC partner shot through a slew of factoids from her 333-page deck covering the top online and e-commerce trends over the past year.
Online sales nabbed 15 percent of all retail sales, and the sector is poised to expand further, but Meeker said e-commerce’s momentum seemed to be slowing — although at growth of 12.4 percent in the first quarter, the sector was still trouncing retail, which expanded at just 2 percent.
Meeker discussed “efficient marketing mechanisms,” like “freemium” models that convert subscribers — think Spotify or Zoom — as well as product recommendation features. “Stitch Fix is one of the best examples of recommendations, both human-driven and AI-driven, that drive their customer base and revenue,” she said.
She pointed to the evolution of data and cloud efforts as a catalyst in commerce. “Data growth is changing the way things work rapidly and globally,” she said. “Data collection, analysis, utilization is evolving from humans to humans and computers.”
Meeker noted: “In the 2000s, something began to happen — that is, companies began to [develop] products that allowed other companies to do this. We call them ‘data plumbers’ with businesses building data-plumbing tools, they used digital data and insights to improve customer experiences…The data-plumbing tools are how to do this real-time: Collect data, manage connections and optimize data [that help to] understand customer wants and improve these processes.”
She pointed to Salesforce, which helps Adidas collect data to increase customer input and improve products, and to other “plumbers,” such as Twilio, which supports platforms like Shopify.
Internet ad spending is also on the rise, jumping 22 percent in the U.S. last year. For now, most of the activity still courses through Facebook and Google’s pipes, but rivals like Amazon and Twitter are stealing some share. Targeted programmatic ads constitute a firm majority of online display ad buying, at roughly 62 percent.
But the business of online advertising is also facing its challenges. Privacy concerns and intensifying scrutiny on hardware and software platforms are likely to pose more obstacles, and the cost of acquiring customers might outpace the ultimate payout for some companies.
Other figures Meeker served up depicted how entrenched technology has become in daily life.
The world’s most valuable companies are the technology giants, including Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Google-parent Alphabet, Facebook, Alibaba and Tencent.
And more people are now Internet users than not, with the online population totaling 3.8 billion people, or about 51 percent of humanity — up from 49 percent in 2017. But with the increased adoption came a plateau effect. Smartphone sales, which are a main access point for many users around the world, are falling.
In light of the tech saturation, it may be no surprise that Americans are more obsessed with digital media than ever before.
In 2018, they soaked up 6.3 hours per day on media consumption, a 7 percent rise from the previous year. Voracious appetite for video viewing on platforms like YouTube and Instagram should surprise no one. Neither should the fact that, for the most part, people relied on mobile devices and other connected gadgets to indulge. Of course, that also means they were spending less time on computers. Regardless, more than a quarter of adults in the U.S. say they’re “almost constantly online.”
And there is a variety of consumer devices that continue to carve out their place in everyday life. Meeker charted steep growth of voice-activated technology and ongoing increases in the number of Amazon Echo users and the number of Alexa skills they can use, as well as wearables adoption, which has more than doubled between 2014 and 2018.
Worldwide, the number of interactive gamers ticked upward, growing 6 percent to 2.4 billion people in 2018. Some games, like Fortnite, are becoming a new version of social media, while also driving passive viewership of online gaming.
Right now, the advertising or commerce potential in these channels remains relatively untapped. But if their trajectory continues onward, upcoming versions of Meeker’s deck could be quite the nail-biters for brands and marketers, as they recalculate for the future.