Evolving economies: How mobile growth is revolutionising internet commerce

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Mobile’s growing prevalence is revolutionising internet commerce, says John Collison, co-founder of payments company Stripe, and it will be the brands who elegantly combine mobile and dynamic business models to provide richer experiences for users who will reap the rewards.

There’s a mismatch between the bricks-and-mortar world and the interconnected, internetfirst services cropping up. And while the sharing economy has become a bit of a buzzword, it shouldn’t be overlooked. Indeed, French long distance ridesharing company BlaBlaCar claims it now transports more people in Europe each month than Eurostar.

The increasing prevalence of mobile devices is allowing internet services to chomp away at once-offline worlds. Internetdriven person-to-person networks – dubbed the sharing economy by an unknown savvy marketer – are helping to decrease waste, increase capacity, maximise efficiency and make life more manageable.

In many ways the sharing economy is helping to create a more sustainable economy. In the United States alone there are more than 30 million sharing economy workers – a number that is growing roughly 11 times faster than the rest of the US labour force has over the past four years.

Despite a veneer of maturity, commerce on the internet is still in its infancy. Today less than five per cent of consumer spending happens online globally. We can debate whether we think that number will end up being 50 per cent or 70 per cent or whatever, but it’s clearly going to be a multiple of what it is today.

While the internet is largely borderless (someone in Mumbai can create a website just as easily as someone in Manchester) this is completely untrue in conducting transactions. Sharing economy companies must manage especially complex transactions as well: a renter pays Airbnb and then Airbnb pays the host, for example. They have to deal with hundreds of currencies and payment mechanisms (like credit cards or direct debit systems or Alipay in China), as well as security and compliance in each country in which they want to operate.

Just accepting payments and ensuring users of your platform get paid is a huge barrier to entry for sharing economy companies. Solving that is our biggest challenge.

Since this is the 21st century after all, there shouldn’t be any boundaries to starting a global business – one that connects people to goods and services regardless of geography or currency.

At Stripe we are building a new kind of internet commerce platform to meet the needs and workflows of sharing economy businesses. Back in March we launched the world’s first global payment product for sharing economy companies, called Connect, which allows them to rapidly scale the number of drivers, cleaners, taskrabbits, shops or delivery people on their platform. Today Stripe processes billions of dollars a year for thousands of companies around the world – especially the savviest most forward-thinking businesses in the sharing economy. Much of the business we serve is in categories that didn’t exist five years ago, but which are growing rapidly as the internet transforms industries, from entertainment to transportation.

As the internet moves from the corner of our living rooms to our wrists and pockets, the brands that thrive will be those that elegantly combine mobile and dynamic business models to provide richer experiences for users.

It would be unwise to view internet-driven services as a panacea for the infrastructure around us. But at the same time, denizens of cities are already benefiting from more capacity and improved service. This is a trend that will continue to gain momentum globally.

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