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Retail: does size matter, or only when you were born?

If you’re reading this, then you have the internet. If you have the internet, you have a laptop or phone. Chances are, you have both. We are deep in a digital decade that relies heavily on technology. As a result, brands are faced with the relentless challenge of satisfying our changing digital needs. Businesses that began in sync with the technology boom in the 90s, have time on their side. This was a time when everything was still new and exciting, when consumers were happy with what they were given. Now, we are far more demanding… Has this made it harder for start-up companies to get their foot in the retail door?

“Business opportunities are like buses, there is always another one coming”

90s Kids of Retail

According to business mogul, Richard Branson, business opportunities are like buses, there will always be another one coming. An interesting but possibly bold statement? I’m not sure if I agree but what I do know is that I am yet to feel overwhelmed by an influx of buses. In fact, I have quite the opposite opinion of public transport. However, maybe I’d feel differently if I was looking to start a company in the digital boom?

Twenty years ago we saw technology reshape the business market, giving budding entrepreneurs the opportunity to try their hand at setting up a digital business. As expected, some understood the value better than others, including Mr Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com. In 1994, during the early days of the internet, Bezos spontaneously decided to sell an old book online, but needed a platform to do so. During this time he had no competitors to threaten his chance of success. Now, Amazon owns a huge portion of the online retail market and others haven’t managed to come close.

Prehistoric Retail Race

Will the infant retailers ever be able to pip their elders to the post now they are so big? Or is strength in numbers greater than size? Take eBay, the T-Rex of retail, they compete every day with a number of smaller companies, the Raptors. DePop and Etsy both run in a similar way to eBay but on a smaller scale. This doesn’t have to be a weakness though as they have time to focus on finding a niche. Etsy is renowned for selling vintage and handmade clothes specifically and Depop, for its easy to use mobile platform. If each smaller brand plays to it’s strengths, will they be able to catch up?

For now, Amazon, eBay and their fellow 90s babies dominate online. Almost all the top grossing websites in the world were products of that decade. Those who made their way to the top in the digital boom are standing their ground so smaller companies are struggling to break through. But if the internet is locked down, other platforms may offer hope – all people want to talk about nowadays is omni-channel! A trick Amazon seems to be forgetting with it’s lack of brick and mortar stores… Will this give smaller companies some fuel to get ahead?

Virgin branched into mobile in the 90s, and surprise surprise, they are hugely successful. Some may say that Branson has his fingers in one too many pies… Holidays, planes, mobiles, books, festivals, space, you name it, Branson’s probably done it. It takes something special to build as many company extensions as Virgin have but if the venture didn’t begin in the exciting new digital age, the 90s, would they still be in the position they are now?
My guess is no…

Forget the luck of the Irish, it’s all about the 90s, I’m telling you! It’s a test of time and maybe in a few years the underdogs will creep up on Amazon, eBay, PayPal and all the other leading 90s kids, but for now they are firmly standing their ground.

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