Webshop Trade Days 2019 focus on platforms

No app, no sales

On 23 and 24 January, Utrecht's Jaarbeurs exhibition centre hosted the thirteenth Webshop Trade Days. Businesses in the e-commerce sector form an important target group for .nl, so we visited the event on both days. The extensive programme was dominated by a single theme: big platforms and what they mean for the future of the Netherlands' 100,000-plus webshops. Will the Dutch e-commerce landscape soon be dominated by a handful of powerful retail platforms? And, if so, which ones?

Shared on-line storefront

An e-commerce platform is an on-line storefront, through which retailers offer their products and services to a wide audience. Customers are served directly by the individual retailers, with the platform taking a commission. The retail platforms best known to the Dutch public are Bol.com, Ali Baba and Amazon. A platform's development often involves a prominent player giving other sellers access to its e-commerce software. The piggyback sellers then don't have to build their own storefronts, while the prominent player expands without getting involved in fulfilling the extra orders. In many countries, platforms already dominate the internet economy. In China, for example, it's almost impossible to trade successfully on line without using a platform.

Keynote speaker Bol.com

Keynote speaker from Bol.com at the Webshop Trade Days

More brands offering platforms

So, what does this trend mean for the Dutch e-commerce sector? On the opening morning, nu.nl predicted that by 2025 the landscape would be dominated by a handful of players. In keeping with that forecast, the Webshop Trade Days returned to the subject of platforms again and again. Existing platforms showed off what they could offer, and big brands announced plans to start Dutch platforms of their own. Later this year, for example, Zalando's site and app will be opened up to Dutch fashion retailers. And it won't have been coincidence that a Zalando executive was one of the event's keynote speakers. Others included people from Uber and Bol.com.

Almost impossible for independent apps to compete

Platforms are benefiting from a number of technical developments, including the rise of the smartphone. Our recent survey of trends in internet use found that the number of apps people have on their phones isn't increasing. As a result, it's almost impossible for new internet retailers to get their apps widely adopted alongside those of giants such as Bol.com and Ali Baba. And, without an app on the user's home screen, you can't compete for their business, because consumers increasingly prefer apps to websites for browsing and for on-line transactions. No app, no sales.

Going under

The choice of final keynote speaker at the Webshop Trade Days could not have been more appropriate. Proceedings were concluded by Tom Coronel, former racing driver and CEO of the Create2Fit webshops, whose e-commerce operation went into receivership at the start of the month.

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