Last week Davos hosted the World Economic Forum where world leaders and business leaders meet to discuss the shape of the world with the theme “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World”.
Top of the agenda for ecommerce companies was regulation, protectionism and barriers to free trade on the Internet. Both Alibaba and eBay consider overregulation and countries trying to protect their own industries as less important than building a world where retailers and marketplace win on merit.
President Trump and Prime Minister May
For the UK, following a somewhat fractious row over his ‘Britain First’ tweets, President Trump sought to build bridges with Theresa May at a Davos photo op. He is promising an increase in trade with the UK saying talks “are going to lead to tremendous increases in trade between our two countries, which is great for both in terms of jobs“.
Alibaba‘s Jack Ma called for global leaders to resist the current rise in protectionism around the world and instead double down on the policies that make globalization and free trade possible. In a panel discussion ‘Enabling eCommerce: Small Enterprises, Global Players’ he said “It’s so easy to launch a trade war, but it’s so difficult to stop the disaster of this war,” adding “Don’t use trade as a weapon, use trade as a solution to solve problems”.
“In the future, no matter if you like it or you don’t like it, we will enable every young person and small business to buy globally, sell globally, and deliver globally, pay globally, and travel globally. This is the trend. Nobody can stop it.”
– Jack Ma, Alibaba
Jack Ma warned against overregulation. He pointed to the lack of regulation in China as Alibaba launched and grew as a key reason for the company’s success.
eBay CEO Devin Wenig also pointed towards the danger of governments trying to constrain ecommerce, citing regulatory risk as the biggest concern for eBay. While in some markets regulation has been reduced, there may be increased regulation, particularly in technology and eBay is watching this closely with Devin calling strong regulation of things like search a mistake. Building a better product is always better than regulation according to Devin who would rather build an eBay that customers fought to get to than have the government intervene.
Asked about delivery speed and Amazon, Devin said that speed does matter and the average item sold on eBay in the US is delivered within two days. However he added that this isn’t the only thing that matters and people care about cost and value and that more often than not you’ll find a better deal on eBay than any other marketplace.
Devin was much more buoyant about the future of search noting that the way humans interface with computers is changing fast as consumers migrate from text input to image and voice search. He highlighted eBay’s integration with Google Home in a Davos CNBC interview but insisted that Amazon Alexa and Google Home are just one way that people shop and there will be many others in the future.
“As retail is getting personal, shoppers are also adapting to ordering items online with voice technology — no keyboard required. The way humans interface with computers is changing fast. It’s moving from text to images and voice.”
– Devin Wenig, eBay CEO