With 2021 in the rearview mirror, we’ve had the chance to take stock and look back at what was a momentous year for the eCommerce industry. Here are the 10 news stories that shaped the year, in no particular order.
Grab started life as the Southeast Asian version of Uber, but of course, has grown into so much more. The Southeast Asian ‘super app’ is a fixture in cities across the region and offers everything from raid-hailing to food delivery and financial services.
So it goes without saying that Grab was in the headlines a lot in Southeast Asia, but the Singapore-headquartered company made the biggest waves when it debuted on Wall Street in December. The Nasdaq listing didn’t exactly go to plan for Grab, as its shares fell 21% on the opening day, in the biggest SPAC deal the street has seen to date. Grab’s share price has continued to fall, but not all investors have been put off.
Sea Limited, on the other hand, enjoyed some spectacular financial results. The Singaporean owner of Shopee “raised about US$6 billion in an equity and convertible bond sale” in September, Southeast Asai’s largest-ever fundraising.
Aside from that, Shopee expanded into new territory throughout the year, opening up in Poland, France, Spain, and India, though the company hasn’t exactly been welcomed with open arms in the latter country.
It felt like Amazon dominated every news cycle in the past 12 months, just as its founder Jeff Bezos has dominated the world’s richest man list for four years. Bezos stepped down as Amazon CEO in July to focus on personal projects like Blue Origin, his spaceflight company. However, the controversial follically-challenged billionaire’s decision to take a step back from his company wasn’t enough to stem the tide of negative Amazon news.
The company faced strikes and other labor disputes in locations across the world, it had to deny forcing workers to pee in bottles, was slapped with a record fine in Italy, and was accused of rigging search results for its own benefit in India. Oh, and an AWS outage briefly took down huge swathes of the internet. So yeah, you could say it’s been a busy year for Amazon’s PR execs.
Not all of the logistics problems that dogged global supply chains in 2021 were as dramatic as when the Ever Given blocked the Suez Canal for about a week. The ship that launched a thousand memes would eventually be dislodged and fade out of the headlines, but supply chain woes lasted the entire year.
Lockdowns in Vietnam gave European firms pause for thought, the US Postal Service suspended deliveries to Australia and the 2021 supply chain crisis even got its very own Wikipedia page. The disruption impacted all parts of the eCommerce industry, from manufacturers to marketplaces and end-users.
A container ship that, fortunately for its captain, didn't get stuck and block the Suez Canal.
For the first time in a long time, it wasn’t a good year to be Alibaba or Jack Ma, as they fell foul of Chinese regulators. The year started with an antitrust investigation that was launched in late 2020 and resulted in a record fine of US$2.8 billion for behaving like a monopoly. Further fines were to come and the eCommerce giant ended up counting the cost, reporting an 81% profit decrease.
Strangest of all, though, was Ma’s disappearance. The company’s co-founder resurfaced in January 2021 after three months without a public appearance. He disappeared after a speech many read as critical of Chinese financial authorities, prompting wild speculation as to why the billionaire had gone missing.
Ever since social media giant Facebook announced it was changing its name to Meta and CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled his vision for the metaverse, avoiding this topic has been impossible. Brands from fashion company Ralph Lauren to carmaker Hyundai have breathlessly announced their entry into the metaverse and the momentum seems unstoppable.
Marketing gimmick or the next big thing for eCommerce and society as a whole? It’s too early to say but whatever the answer is, you can be sure you’ll be hearing a lot more about the metaverse in 2022.
You can’t have one without the other. NFTs became big news before the metaverse did but the two concepts are now inextricably linked. Non-fungible tokens (aka NFTs) have single-handedly resurrected the word ‘fungible’ in 2021 and also revitalized the art world, if you listen to tech bros that is.
Just as with the metaverse, big brands have hopped aboard the NFT gravy train with gusto, mainly as a complement to their offerings in the physical world. Oh and for those still wondering what in the digital world an NFT is, we’ll include a definition from Investopedia:
“Non-fungible tokens or NFTs are cryptographic assets on a blockchain with unique identification codes and metadata that distinguish them from each other. Unlike cryptocurrencies, they cannot be traded or exchanged at equivalency. This differs from fungible tokens like cryptocurrencies, which are identical to each other and, therefore, can be used as a medium for commercial transactions.”
Apple and Meta (nee Facebook) went head-to-head this year over user privacy. Apple was on the side of user privacy, with Facebook standing up for its $86 billion advertising business which relies on user data.
Apple rolled out various features that gave users more control over their data, and these changes started to hit companies’ bottom lines. Firms in the eCommerce industry weren’t spared from the impact as whole rivers of user data suddenly dried up. While Apple has walked back some of its strict privacy policies, it’s undeniable that the data collection landscape changed massively in 2021.
Apple ramped up efforts to market itself on privacy protection in 2021.
No, that headline isn’t referring to chimpanzees being sold online (that would likely be illegal), but the sale of Mailchimp, the marketing automation platform and email marketing service that everyone in eCommerce should have some awareness of.
Financial software company Intuit bought Mailchimp back in September for a cool $12 billion, a big win for a company that began life as a bootstrapped startup. Later in the year, Mailchimp teamed up with Shopify as part of its efforts to get deeper involved in the eCommerce industry.
The buy now, pay later (BNPL) industry had a big 2021, but not everyone’s happy about that. Proponents say the payment method makes shopper more affordable for more people, while critics warn that the unregulated financial product could encourage “unsustainable spending and reliance on debt”.
Wherever you land on BNPL though, it doesn’t seem like it’s going away and some have predicted use of the payment method to treble in the 2022 holiday season.