Retail bankruptcies and the e-commerce obsession

Between 2010 and 2014, it seemed everyone was obsessed with e-Commerce. Managers were asked to prepare « e-BusinessPlans » and « Internet Commerce Strategies » (p.s. these are not real terms, just having a go at the whole thing). It was a special moment for e-Commerce, kind of a tipping point, were mobile and social were offering new ways of selling with unprecedented scale. e-Commerce had been growing for over 15 years prior to that, but it was beginning to make a real dent in traditional businesses. You could look at the trend and say with confidence that it would represent 10-20% of your business in a few years. 

Anyways, the hype was at its maximum. Expectations were high. You could not see the effects right now but you could feel the ground shaking. Optimistic marketers were evangelizing e-Commerce inside and outside of companies. Pessimist marketers were asking for more data. But if you only held your breath for a few years, e-Commerce didn't live to its expectations. It had its ups and its down. And over the years, traditional retailers had many opportunities to claim they won over e-commerce – that it was just a fad. 

But I saw this tweet this morning:

And it reminded me that I read this article 4 years ago. Jeff Jordan from A16Z wrote The Tipping Point (E-Commerce Version). Right at the beginning of the article, he states the following:

We’re in the midst of a profound structural shift from physical to digital retail. The drivers of this shift are simple:

Online retail has strong cost advantages over its offline counterparts and is rapidly taking share in many retail categories through better pricing, selection and, increasingly, service.

These offline players have high operational leverage and many cannot withstand declining top-line revenue growth for long.

The resulting bankruptcies of physical retailers remove competition for online players, further boosting their share gains.

And almost 4 years later, here's what the retail bankruptcies timeline look like in 2017:


My main learning from this is that it's important to recognize where are we on the timeline when we make predictions or plans. Between 2010 and 2014, the e-commerce obsession was intense, almost unhealthy, creating a lot of tensions in companies. And we didn't know where we were on the timeline at all. And it's only many years later that we see the true effects of this movement. Even in 2017, it's still very early for online commerce in general.

The interesting part is that we moved to talking about other stuff before we could see the real impact of e-Commerce. We started talking about mobile, social, VR/AR, 3d printing, the blockchain, etc. It was not a novelty anymore, it was cool in powerpoint decks anymore. But it. And we kind of forgot about e-commerce. But it was making its way.

As the old saying goes, don't overestimate what happens in a year and don't underestimate what happens in 10 years.