Today is, apparently, Cyber Monday in the UK. But there's a more interesting story in the UK's eCommerce market. It's about tax.
The debate is about the tax policies of a number of prominent multi-national businesses that operate in the UK, including Amazon, eBay, Google, Starbucks and Vodafone, most of which pay little or no Corporation Tax, which is levied as a percentage of profits. (It's relatively easy and perfectly legal for a subsidiary of a multi-national company to avoid taxes on profits in one country by buying services from a sister company in another country so that it makes no profit in the first country.)
Today, the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons published a scathing report on tax avoidance by multi-national companies operating in the UK. As the report puts it about Starbucks, which has made no profits in the UK for 14 of the past 15 years: "We found it difficult to believe that a commercial company with a 31% market share by turnover, with a responsibility to its shareholders and investors to make a decent return, was trading with apparent losses for nearly every year of its operation in the UK." What the committee says about Amazon is, if anything, worse.
What's the relevance to eBusiness? While it's uncomfortable for Google and Starbucks to be in the limelight for the wrong reasons, demand for both information and coffee is (presumably) fairly constant through the year. But for retailers Amazon and eBay, the timing couldn't be worse, because this debate is taking place in the run-up to Christmas, the crucial sales period for all retailers in the UK.
I recently had a chance to catch up with another global eCommerce enthusiast: Hendrik Laubscher works for PriceCheck, a price comparison site in South Africa owned by MIH Internet Africa. He and I sat down for a coffee to talk all things developing eCommerce markets. A few things that came out of our conversation:
In South Africa, payments and broadband connectivity remain hurdles to eCommerce adoption. South Africa, the continent’s largest eCommerce market, remains at a relatively early stage, with several inhibitors preventing the market from truly flourishing. Although credit and debit card usage is growing, overall penetration remains low, even in comparison to other large emerging markets. PayPal offerings have been a challenge, as well — currency issues and restrictions that required users to be registered FNB online banking customers prevented many from taking advantage of this payment method. Additionally, the country’s low overall Internet penetration — in particular, broadband penetration — also presents hurdles. The CEO of Woolworths in South Africa recently said that faster, cheaper broadband was essential for eCommerce to flourish, but estimated that this scenario remained “about four years off.”
When I moved to India about two years ago, I arrived with my own expectations regarding emerging markets. One of them was that the lack of legacy IT applications and infrastructure would make these markets an ideal place for new technologies and delivery models like as-a-service to thrive. In other words, organizations in emerging markets would “leapfrog” to new technologies without going through some of the prior technology investments witnessed in developed markets. Unfortunately, the reality is not that simple.
One of the key takeaways of my recent reports (Australia, China, India Set The Pace For Asian IT Services and The Changing Face Of ASEAN IT Services — to be published in January 2012) is that most of the growth in emerging countries will come from traditional IT services such as ERP implementation, infrastructure deployment, and system integration. Against common belief, emerging services — including cloud and mobility — will represent less than 20% the total annual growth in emerging markets in 2015.
I see several reasons for this:
Lack of governance and planning. An IT department’s role is merely one of provider of applications and infrastructure, whose main objective is to react to business needs.
Lack of internal skills. Client organizations do not have the adequate skills internally to take on complex transformational projects involving new technologies such as virtualization, business analytics, and mobile enterprise application integration platforms.
Lack of IT services culture. Most client organizations in emerging markets leverage external skills to help them with basic tasks such as hardware maintenance and software deployment.
Back in September, I wrote up a few of my findings from meetings with companies in the eCommerce space in Rio and São Paulo. We’re fielding an increasing number of questions about Brazil, and indeed, while eCommerce in Brazil today is still heavily dominated by local companies, the landscape is starting to include more international players:
Last week a lone blogger broke the news that not one but three fake Apple stores had sprung up in the city of Kunming in China, though it appears the problem is fast becoming a worldwide one for Apple to deal with.
It’s no secret that counterfeit goods are commonplace in China, and there are moves afoot to attempt to tackle this issue, at least online. However, this is a very different beast. There has been an explosion of commentary in the press about these fake stores, mostly focusing on the fact that they exist, and mostly failing to draw any comment for Apple.
Action has been taken. According to China Daily, “A local authority had previously said that two of the stores were suspended for not having business licenses. But the local industrial and commercial bureau confirmed to the Shanghai Morning Post on Tuesday that one of them had in fact obtained a license on June 22 and thus could stay open.”
The general tone of the various reports is that the stores are selling genuine Apple products bought wholesale through genuine channels, and that the only reason they would be closed down is because they didn’t follow local laws to obtain a retail license. Not because of any IPR infringement. This will be an interesting story to watch play out -- because if that turns out to be true, it sets a gloomy precedent for other retailers who may be suffering the same challenge.
Over the past year, we’ve worked together with the forecast team at Forrester to help eBusiness professionals understand the size of different online retail markets around the globe. Last year we published our first look at the online retail markets in some of the major markets in Asia-Pacific — this year, we’ve just published our first forecast for two of the largest online retail markets in Latin America, Brazil and Mexico. Some findings from the report include:
Brazil is — and will remain — the powerhouse in the region. With more than 40% of the online users in the region and a steadily growing economy, it’s not surprising that Brazil’s eCommerce market will outpace all others by a wide margin. Brazil’s projected 2011 sales of almost $10B put it behind other major online retail markets like France and South Korea but ahead of smaller ones such as the Netherlands and Italy.
Mexico’s online retail market is small today —but growing by a CAGR of almost 20%. With less than half of the online users of Brazil and limited online spending, Mexico’s online retail market remains a small fraction of the size of Brazil’s. Average online spending per buyer will not increase significantly over the next five years, but the sheer number of online buyers will.
The Groundswell is now global. Social media has entered the mainstream in every single market Forrester regularly surveys — and in most of those markets, social media use is at 75% or higher. Australian, Japanese and Italian online users all show stronger adoption of social media than Americans do – and Chinese, Dutch and Swedish users have nearly pulled level with the Americans. And in 2010 Facebook reported that more than 70% of its active users were outside the US, while Twitter said more than 60% of its accounts come from outside the US.
The simple fact is that if your company has a social media program, that program is global — whether you want it to be or not. And this isn’t just a nuisance or a language issue. Failing to recognize the global nature of your social programs means you might be telling foreign users about products that aren’t available in their countries (for instance, Toyota UK reached more than 100 million people with a fantastic blogger outreach program for its iQ model; but it turns out that more than 95% of those people live in countries where the iQ isn’t for sale). Or you may be advertising discounts and promotions to which many users don’t have access (for instance, while Amazon’s Facebook page promoted a special price of $89 for the Kindle last November, a Kindle cost almost twice as much in the UK — and wasn’t available at all in most other markets). If you work in a regulated industry like financial services or pharmaceuticals, you risk running afoul of government regulators.
“Winning the Future” was the theme of the recent US State of the Union address. With the global economy and new education performance rankings as our “sputnik moment,” the president urged Congress to invest in the future – and in education. As put it in the speech,
Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success. But if we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.
So what exactly was the sputnik moment, or one of them? In the recently released OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings, the US didn’t do so well. US students were average performers in reading (rank 14 in OECD) and science (rank 17) but well the below the OECD average in mathematics (rank 25). The new top fliers in the PISA study are: Shanghai, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Finland, Canada, Japan and New Zealand.
According to the OECD report,
Education is the single most critical investment to raise the long-run growth potential of countries. In the global economy, the performance of education systems is the yardstick for success, particularly in light of the fundamental technological and demographic challenges that are re-shaping our economies.
Calling all tech industry marketing and strategy professionals! We need some help with our current research on market opportunity assessement.
"Where in the world are you? And, how'd you get there?"
Strategists in the tech industry face a continuous stream of critical decisions in today’s complex global market. One of those is “where in the world?” One the one hand, globalization expands the options available, making it “easier” to enter new markets. However, those decisions aren’t always themselves easy. To better understand how strategists are undertaking the tasks of identifying, evaluating and prioritizing technology market opportunities in new geographies, we have launched a short survey. The survey questions include background on market presence and intended entry, data sources and factors that influence these decisions, stakeholders' involvement, and the process itself. This is where we need your help. If you are part of a team or team leader for strategic planning in global markets, we’re interested in your input. The data gathered will be used for an upcoming report – Where in the World? Tech vendor strategists weigh opportunities (and risks) of expansion (working title). The report will also use public data and research interviews (where we'd also like your help).
The survey should take no more than 15 minutes and participants who complete the survey will receive a complimentary copy of the completed report. Terms and conditions (the fine print): As always, we keep your individual responses confidential.
On March 30, 2010, Yale University placed a migration to Google Apps for its email services on hold over privacy and security concerns, especially regarding a lack of transparency about in what country its data would be stored in.
Michael Fisher, a computer science professor involved in the decision, said that “People were mainly interested in technical questions like the mechanics of moving, wondering ‘Could we do it?’ ,but nobody asked the question of ‘Should we do it?’” and went on to say that the migration would “also makes the data subject to the vagaries of foreign laws and governments, and “that Google was not willing to provide ITS with a list of countries to which the University’s data could be sent, but only a list of about 15 countries to which the data would not be sent.”
This closely aligns with our January report, “As IaaS Cloud Adoption Goes Global, Tech Vendors Must Address Local Concerns” which examined security and privacy issues involved in moving data to the cloud, especially when it’s no longer clear what country your data will reside in. In this report, we offered that IaaS providers should give “guidance on where data is located and location guarantees if necessary. Rather than merely claiming that data is in the cloud, tech vendors must be prepared to identify the location of data and provide location guarantees (at a premium) if required.”