Online retailers will help to re-ignite the global economy, says Fareed Zakaria.
Paul Demery , Chief Technology Editor
Appearing before thousands of retailers at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2012 today, international affairs expert Fareed Zakaria reviewed how the world has survived many economic and political crises in recent decades because of the resilience in economic and political systems.
In particular, he noted how American innovation in technology, education and business has repeatedly played a key role in re-igniting the U.S. and global economy. And with the current economic struggles, notably in Europe and China as well as in the United States, ongoing innovation in e-commerce will support economic recovery and growth over the long term.
“America has the innovation gene,” Zakaria said. But innovation doesn’t have to break the bank, he added. He cited Apple Inc., No. 3 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, as the “most innovative company in the world” with its development of game-changing mobile devices and other products and services that have been a hit with consumers. Yet Apple’s research-and-development spending is relatively low compared to that of other large companies, he added. “Apple’s innovation is about figuring out what the customer wants,” Zakaria said.
Other retailers can learn from Apple’s experience, he added, by using e-commerce technology to transform the shopping experience to meet their customers’ needs.
Zakaria said the world economy will continue to improve because of three key characteristics of the modern era: political stability that is stronger than in the past despite remaining problems, economic convergence of the global economy, and technological connectivity, “which you’re so much a part of,” he told the audience. He added that IRCE attendees looked younger than most audiences he tends to address on world affairs.
And as e-commerce technology spreads to more of the world—he noted that India alone has 500 million mobile phones, a growing number with Internet connectivity—U.S. and global online retailers have a long-term opportunity to grow with the world economy.
The combination of e-commerce innovation and a growing global market spell long-term opportunity for online retail, Zakaria said, even though he doesn’t yet know how this will all play out. Advances in fields such as material sciences could transform how consumers buy items online. “The next phase of e-commerce might well be helping people to make what they want in their homes or offices,” he said.