Local Commerce: Looking Back at ’20, and Forward to ’21

Tis the season for predictions. We’re skipping that formalized exercise in what’s become an off-year for the world (some might say dumpster fire). Instead, we’re aggregating and adding insights to several outside voices that we track. And Localogy’s daily coverage is already peppered with predictions.

To add to those exercises, we want to hold ourselves to task for projections made last year at this time. Though Covid offers a do-over for all industry watchers in that “all bets are off” in an upside-down world, it’s still worth looking at past projections versus what actually happened… for better or worse.

Here’s the full list followed by brief comments on what happened, and where that leaves us at the precipice of 2021


1. Uber Shifts Localized Ads Into High Gear: To diversify revenue and satisfy wall street, Uber will continue to gain economies of scale through services that are adjacent to rides (Eats, etc.). This is what we’re calling CityOS and it will continue to develop into 2020. For similar reasons, Uber will build on its existing rides architecture with a local ad engine. This will utilize captive audiences during the app’s in-ride mode, as well as robust data on riders’ spatial patterns. This will start with ads for local restaurants (a component of Eats), but could move into other local categories. It will be a self-serve programmatic ad engine, potentially bid-based, for locally relevant placement in the Uber app. 

What really happened: This prediction didn’t really pan out. We believe these plans are still alive somewhere at Uber HQ, but have been shelved as the company triages attention to other spinning plates.

2021 double-down? No

Uber Spreads its Wings in Transit, Logistics

2. Amazon Blitzes Retail-as-a-Service (RaaS): Connecting several dots, Amazon will roll out a “retail-as-a-service” play. This is one of the secret endgames of Amazon Go stores, and follows the playbook of AWS in being an internal tool that’s then rolled out for others. It will package up the technology for cashier-less stores and provide it as a service to other retailers. This will carry Amazon’s signature logistical streamlining to help those retailers improve margins and yield through modernized operations. The advent of 5G and other technologies like computer vision will meanwhile make Amazon RaaS more effective than the capital-intensive ceiling cameras it uses in Amazon Go stores today. Speaking of Amazon’s potential expansions, it also may make a big move into local food delivery and cloud kitchens. 

What really happened: This prediction did materialize in 2020… but not to its full potential. Like Uber, Amazon focused on other fires. This was a double-edged sword for Amazon in 2020 as it rode a massive eCommerce wave, but not without logistical setbacks including employment issues. 

2021 double-down? No

Amazon Goes Full “Retail as a Service”

3. Wearables are the Next Battleground for Tech Giants: Smartphones are maturing and players like Apple are scrambling for a succession plan. They’ve identified wearables (Watch, AirPods, etc.) as the next cash cow and are doubling down on it. The same goes for Google, as shown by its FitBit acquisition to boost its WearOS platform. Meanwhile, players without the benefit of a smartphone direct consumer touchpoint (Microsoft & Amazon) are seeing this as an opportunity to plant seeds for the next generation of consumer hardware and are likewise doubling down. We’ll see more acquisitions and rapid product rollouts in the wearables category, with wild cards like Snap Spectacles and Bose Frames providing additional fuel to the fire. Local search and discovery will be a core wearables use case, such as audible navigation.

What really happened: This prediction did pan out, but not for everyone. Google was mostly idle, as were Microsoft and Amazon’s wearable plays. But Apple stepped on the gas, including AirPods Pro, spatial audio and continued R&D and M&A towards “Apple Glass.”

2021 double-down? Yes

Apple WWDC Recap: The Local Edition

4. Website Builders Continue to Broaden Functionality: As the website sector in general matures, there’s less growth so competition intensifies for market share. The result is a spate of moves in the past six months to beef up their bundle of services with more functionality to attract customers and reduce churn. This has ratcheted up as website builders like GoDaddy, Automattic and others are rapidly expanding (though building and buying) to offer marketing and promotion, in addition to the core “presence” functionality of websites. That will continue into 2020, with feature expansion that most prominently includes email marketing, SEO and CRM. 

What really happened: This prediction definitely panned out in 2020. We saw ample expansion from website builders, including both buying and building. A few examples include GoDaddy acquiring Poynt and Skyverge; Squarespace launching subscriptions; and Wix launching Answers. 

2021 double-down? Yes

Localogy M&A Roundtable: iHeart, Endurance & eCommerce

5. Google Cultivates a More Visual Front End: To future-proof its core search business, Google will invest heavily in cultivating and marketing existing visual search products such as Google Lens (“search what you see”) and Live View AR navigation. For Google this is driven by reasons similar to embracing voice search: to diversify search formats, boost volume, etc.. It will start by pushing the use case around general interest searches (pets, flowers, etc.). But after it conditions the user behavior it will flip the monetization switch by focusing more on monetizable items. For example, visual search is natively aligned and highly conducive to fashion items and local discovery. It will jumpstart all of the above in 2020 by “incubating” the above products in core search to get it in front of users and stimulate demand for these new visual formats.  

What really happened: This prediction panned out in 2020 considering Google’s many updates to Live View and Lens. Many of these updates advanced the local-commerce components of these products including crowdsourcing local 3D mapping and adding new features. 

2021 double-down? Yes

Google Upgrades Live View AR Navigation, Part II

We’ll continue to keep a close eye on all of the above, as well as new trends that emerge in 2021.

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