As one of the single biggest technical innovations we’ve ever made as a species, the internet changed everything. It transformed and utterly uplifted how we live and progress as people, and completely altered the world of commerce. In a few short decades, we’ve gone from struggling to sell locally to being able to build businesses that can sell to the world over.
This, though, has created one interesting problem: huge internet companies. Companies based online with no real offline face. Businesses which brand out across continent to continent, strangling competition and dominating markets they previously could never have touched. So, whilst the internet allows everyone to run a business from their bedroom, are some of the major players of the online sphere just a little too big?
Let’s take a look at some of the implications of the modern internet giants present today.
Controlling the market
One of the biggest problems that these businesses produce is near dominance of their chosen market. If you want to run an offline store, you need to beat local competition. Perhaps you need to beat a big company name who is based in a nearby, larger city. However, if you want to succeed online, you need to beat all the independent competition and then outsmart your traditional market leader.
Easier said than done you would say, right? It’s part of the challenge in being an online business. Today, companies like Amazon hold immense dominance over their challengers. Bringing in millions of dollars of revenue in a single day, companies like Amazon simply hold dominion over the entire market. There is an interesting infographic titled “internet in realtime” which shows just how big and controlling some of these companies are.
If they want to sell a product that you sell, it’s easy to do so. Add in their massive market scale and their marketing budget, and it’s easier for them to be seen first and sell at a lower price. They can afford to – can you?
This means that the option is either be beaten or join the big company. Instead of trying to run their own independent store, many people end up selling their wares through Amazon instead and earning less than they could if they were to go it alone.
It’s the same for most online markets. Online markets today tend to have someone commanding it. Want to start a search engine? Good luck. Once you somehow beat the likes of Duck Duck Go, you need to beat the top boy – Google.
They are simply too big, too expansive and too powerful. The market isn’t a monopoly; it’s just that everyone else has to make do with the crumbs. When companies like Amazon are worth $1tn, how can you possibly hope to knock them off their perch?
The reputation to succeed
We also have an issue where companies like this are simply bulletproof. All manner of bad news stories can come out about employment quality, how people are treated on-site and various other negative factors. We can find out that companies of such immense scale pay a fraction of the tax that they should, using their power and influence to just take a nice step over the regulations.
The problem is that, since companies of this size are so integral to our day-to-day consumer activities, we look the other way. You might be annoyed that Amazon, for example, being fast and loose with taxation. However, they do it in a way that is ingenious: they find easy ways to circumvent regulation, and nobody cares. Or, at least, they don’t care enough to stop using the service.
Sure, you’re annoyed and you wish they would pay more tax. But is anyone else doing that awesome coffee you love at free delivery and at 38% off? No. They aren’t. This creates expendable morals, where we are happy to essentially whistle and look the other way. We keep using services that, if we carried out the same business practices, would see us in serious legal trouble.
It’s just part of the fact we allow the internet to have so much power. We give these companies insane levels of reputation and luxury: it should come as no surprise that they use that to their advantage. And is it even possible to be too annoyed?
We’ve created a system where business does all that it can to avoid playing by the rules. Companies big and small do what is legal to keep their tax bills as small as possible. If we’re all at it, playing these games, can we really complain?
What can be done?
Sadly, it’s a bit late for that. If we, as a society, wanted to avoid companies like Amazon and Google becoming market leaders, we shouldn’t have used them almost exclusively. In their early days, both companies had plenty of competition. The problem is that we put all of our attention into using these options: they now hold so much wealth, opportunity and reputation that it’s very hard to stop them.
Basically, how can you stop a business that already has so much sway? Building a competitor for them is almost impossible. Trying to start up a new business and proclaim it the ‘new Amazon’ or ‘new eBay’ is like calling a sports star the new Mike Tyson, Michael Jordan or Lionel Messi: it’s very much unlikely.
So, if you want to do something about these internet companies holding so much sway, the answer is simple: stop using them. If you are not too bothered about the size and rapid growth of online companies, or you believe it is a good thing, then keep on using them.
One thing is for sure: we have never in the history of humanity had such potential for companies to hold the power they do text. For that reason, it’s going to be extremely important that we appreciate the fact that this is unprecedented. Corporate lobbying has been a centuries-long problem for humanity and politics: is it really going to change anytime soon?
Don’t blame the internet for creating these giants: it’s down to their consumers and users.