All aboard online

Vinay Kamath | Updated on February 21, 2019

Skype co-founder Jonas Kjellberg

Internet evangelist and Skype co-founder Jonas Kjellberg believes retail will go 100 per cent online, while Andrew Keen, a strong critic of the internet culture, thinks re-invented brick and mortar is where shoppers will go

Entrepreneur, evangelist, author, investor, co-founder of Skype, the Swede Jonas Kjellberg is a man of many interests. As one of the early entrepreneurs who developed technologies using the internet, Kjellberg has made many bets on the future.

In an interview to Cat.a.lyst on the sidelines of the IAA World Congress in Kochi, he makes another one: that retail will eventually be 100 per cent online!

Considering that in India online retail contributes just under 5 per cent to overall retail sales, this would be a tall ask, even though globally online retail is faring better. “When I was trying to sell shoes on the internet in India (through an investment in Jabong), everybody said I was mad. I said the same thing with mobile connectivity; I said 100 per cent of phone consumers are going to have mobile phones and everybody had said I was mad and then I said when Skype was launched that 100 per cent of consumers are going to have internet connectivity. Today people not only have Skype but also Line, Face time, Zoom.”

Kjellberg says one needs to look if the trend is upward and irreversible. “For traditional retail, the challenge is not about what they are going to do about it, but if the trend is going to go up to 100 per cent. I can be wrong, and hurray for the retailer. Cars, mobiles, internet connectivity all went to 100 per cent; so (for retail) is this following the 100 per cent curve?” he asks. How does he make his assumptions?

Kjellberg says it is a combination of research, growth, seeing the population, unit economics along with a dash of gut feel.

“No one is going to agree with me that 100 per cent of retail will be online, they will say I am stupid. My assumption is that online retail will be more efficient. Maybe not now in India but maybe in Sweden for fashion apparel and the trend of online sales for consumer goods over time will escalate,” he says.

For a trend to escalate, different strands need to come together: digital payments, logistics systems, rules and regulations and so on. “If you look at the first mobile phone 25 years ago, it was large (and clunky), then smaller bad quality phones came, and nobody said it would work. Then came Nokia and Apple and Google develops Android and now there are smartphones everywhere. So, it’s not just one thing,” he explains. He sticks his neck out to say that healthcare and diagnosis will also go online in a big way. The thing about tech and the internet is that nobody can place a bet on a trend for sure.

Published on February 21, 2019

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