3 Big Tech Predictions for 2021

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Welcome to 2021: another year where everything will change faster than ever. Speed will define the year, as it did in 2020. Consumer behavior is rapidly shifting, and the big tech firms that define the e-commerce landscape are becoming more agile as a result.

Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google aren’t going to slow down even as they experience increased scrutiny and outright hostility because of their market dominance. They’re going to continue rolling out new features to help businesses react to mercurial and unpredictable consumers. Here are three predictions for the year ahead. 

Facebook and Google Go to War

All eyes are on Facebook’s spat with Apple over user privacy. But the more intriguing war is the product feature arms race between Facebook and Google. Both businesses are increasingly desperate to keep users engaged on their platforms to protect their advertising revenues. They’re doing that with new features.

For example, Facebook recently acquired CRM software firm Kustomer in a bid to own the entire customer journey on the world’s largest social network, from search to purchase – something that Google already does well.

Meanwhile, Google is beefing up its chat functionality. Starting this year, Google will make chat available everywhere as a free service both within Gmail and as a standalone app. In addition, Google recently made it possible for businesses to message with customers from Google Maps. Of course, chat is an area Facebook has mastered, and Google is playing catch-up here. But Google can embed chat in far more places than Facebook can based on the influence of Google My Business.

Much is at stake: between them, Facebook and Google account for more than half of U.S. online advertising revenue, with Google’s share dropping and Facebook’s climbing. The two businesses are going to turn up the fight in 2021 in an increasingly digital-first world. 

Smart Voice Products Become Trojan Horses

For the past few years, we’ve seen Amazon and Google flood the market with voice-based products such as Amazon Echo speakers and Google’s Nest smart thermostats. (Many people are not aware of this, but Nest devices are embedded with a microphone and speaker.) It’s become clear that Amazon and Google already rely on those devices to listen to us. In fact, both companies faced some blowback when it was reported that they were listening to random snippets of dialogue. But they are not going to let bad PR stop them from finding ways to listen to people and understand their behavior – they just need to do so with user consent.

Voice-activated devices provide these companies with a rich vein of data that they can use to not only improve products but also understand consumer behavior – analytics in the home, if you will. With that understanding, Big Tech firms can sell more effective advertising. I think this thirst for customer data motivated Google to invest in security firm ADT. Google wants ADT technicians to become more proficient installing Nest devices. For its part, Amazon’s Halo fitness tracker uses our voices to help us keep fit – and to collect data about us.

The key is for Big Tech to offer customers something in return for allowing products to listen to them – whether a more efficient thermostat or a healthier body. 

Live Commerce Takes Hold

When Facebook introduced livestreaming back in 2015, forward-thinking businesses began to experiment with the tool to generate engagement with their audiences, an example being automotive dealerships giving live tours of their new makes and models on the lot. Now retailers in particular are using livestreaming to create more interesting shopping experiences. 

In China, retailers routinely rely on livestreaming, usually with the help of key opinion leaders, to sell products during the highly lucrative Singles Day. In the United States, businesses such as Walmart are catching on to livestreaming, too.  Why? Because 2020 accelerated the growth of e-commerce, major platforms such as Amazon and Instagram are making it easy for retailers to livestream, and in the age of Zoom, consumers are far more accustomed to interacting live. 

Livestreaming also captures something many of us lost in 2020: the human touch to shopping. Searching and clicking to buy things online does not quite emulate the experience of interacting with other people in stores. A recent Reputation.com study suggests that people miss that human touch. Livestreaming brings us one step closer to that experience online. Instagram and Facebook both recently launched new shoppable features to capitalize on this trend. Watch for many more to come in 2021.

Antitrust or Bust?

The antitrust actions against big tech firms will escalate. But those are going to be lengthy, costly legal slogs. The recently filed antitrust action against Google likely won’t even go to trial until 2023. In 2021, big tech will keep the focus of the fight on each other as they protect their turf in a digital-first world.

Adam Dorfman is director of product growth at Reputation.

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