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A new kind of shopping season

Shopping bag

Good morning! This Monday, what's in store for the 2020 holiday shopping season, what's inside Wish's S-1 and why a simple web standard could upend the App Store.

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The Big Story

Holiday shopping, meet 2020

It's Thanksgiving week, which means it's the beginning of the most wonderful time of the year: the six weeks when we all spend too much money buying stuff for ourselves, then buying stuff for everyone we know.

This year, holiday shopping is a little different. We're running a whole series of stories on Protocol this week about how the pandemic has changed the retail business, and why some of those changes aren't going back to the way they were before. Protocol's Mike Murphy talked to a bunch of experts, who identified three big trends:

  • The supply chain. For months this year, you couldn't buy toilet paper! Even now, Mike found, retailers are having trouble keeping their warehouses operational enough to fulfill orders. This is a global problem, and one complicated by the U.S. trade war with China.
  • The shopping experience. Contactless payments have become the norm, stores are redesigning to keep crowds down, pickup and delivery are booming. And the combination of online shopping, in-store browsing, pickup and delivery is becoming a big part of every retailer's plan.
  • The new customer relationship. I mean, there's a Shopping tab on Instagram now. What else do you need to know? Buying is social, it's influencer-driven, it's all about figuring out how to build loyalty and a brand around your stuff. No wonder every tech company wants to give you a debit card.

This week's going to be particularly interesting as a barometer for just how much has actually changed. It may feel like we're all shopping online, but data shows that ecommerce still only accounts for about 16% of retail sales (up from 12% pre-pandemic). Based on what we're hearing, a couple recommendations for your own shopping this season:

  • Don't brave the stores. Instead, remember this acronym: BOPIS. Buy online, pick up in-store. (You could also call it curbside pickup, but I much prefer BOPIS.) It's almost as fast as going into the store yourself, and almost as convenient as buying online.
  • Shop early. Really early. As we've seen from the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X launches, the logistics of hot holiday gifts are going to be tough. Pull the trigger on that Facebook Portal or iPad Pro sooner rather than later.

Risk Factors

Wish's messy future in retail

While we're on the subject of the new face of shopping, let's look into the IPO prospectus from Wish. For the unfamiliar, Wish says its goal is "to bring an affordable and entertaining mobile shopping experience to billions of consumers around the world." In my experience, it's more like "to bring cheap knockoff AirPods and athleisure clothing to anyone willing to spend $6 on the off chance it might work out." But whatever.

So far, things are going very well for Wish: It generated more than $1.7 billion in revenue in the last nine months. But the company's also operating in an awfully complicated global market. Let's take a look at a few of the company's S-1 risk factors, shall we?

  • The big one: "Economic tension between the United States and China, or between other countries, may intensify and the United States, China, or other countries may adopt drastic measures in the future that impact our business." The whole premise of Wish relies on trade that's no longer guaranteed to be so easy.
  • Wish spends more than $1 billion a year on sales and marketing, and gets a huge amount of business through Google and Facebook. Can it ever acquire new users in a cheaper way? Even the company's not sure.
  • It's obviously hugely reliant on the international shipping industry, which hasn't exactly been reliable this year. And the Wish Local system may not help much.

Of all companies to watch over the next few weeks, Wish should be one of the most interesting. In the run-up to its IPO, you can bet it's going to do everything it can to look like the fast and reliable future of everything. No pressure.

Streaming

The real-time web is winning

The no-code movement is taking over and there's an app for everything, but the most important thing happening in software right now might be a little web standard called WebRTC.

  • Case in point: Some gamers spent the weekend playing with Nvidia's GeForce Now, which is newly on iOS and works through Safari — and wouldn't be possible without WebRTC. (When I asked the company for a deep description of how the system worked, the reply was just … a bunch of links to WebRTC information.)
  • WebRTC, by the way, is an open-source project that enables real-time communication, such as video, in web browsers and mobile apps via some APIs. Here's a simple primer on it from Houseparty, which is also built using the technology.

The rest of the game-streaming industry is also into WebRTC by the looks of things. Google Stadia, Xbox's cloud gaming and others are all tapping WebRTC to circumvent the App Store and get onto iPhones.

  • Ironically, Apple enforcing its App Store rules more aggressively seems to be leading to a bit of a renaissance for the open web. With video chat and real-time collaboration being built into practically every app and service now, this trend's only going to grow.

And it seems to be gaining traction: Nvidia said that more than 10% of GeForce Now gameplay has come through Chrome since the Chromebook beta started in August. This whole "high-end computer, streaming onto any screen you can find" idea might have some staying power.

A MESSAGE FROM SYNCHRONY

SYNCHRONY

Contactless payments are no longer a nice to have.

At Synchrony, we understand the challenges of running a business. Our financial and technology solutions, like touchless payment tools, help you offer your customers more tailored experiences, so they keep coming back.

Learn more about our solutions.

People Are Talking

Apple's days of making Intel-powered Macs sound like they're about over, per Greg Joswiak:

  • "When we said we would support Intel systems for years to come, that was talking about the operating system … What we did say from a system standpoint, is that we still had Intel systems that were in the pipeline, that we were yet to introduce. And certainly that was so. The very next month, we introduced an Intel-based iMac."

Speaking of Apple's new Macs, Linus Torvalds has a request for the MacBook Air:

  • "I've been waiting for an Arm laptop that can run Linux for a long time. The new Air would be almost perfect, except for the OS. And I don't have the time to tinker with it, or the inclination to fight companies that don't want to help."

There are three essential ingredients to a great startup founder, YC co-founder Jessica Livingston said:

  • "Determination, domain expertise, and ability to sell. There should be at least one founder with each. If you have all three, you could theoretically go it alone. But even then you'll find it easier with a good cofounder. It can be done as a single founder, but it's so rare."

Bitcoin might really be the new gold, said BlackRock's Rick Rieder:

  • "I think digital currency and the receptivity – particularly millennials' receptivity — of technology and cryptocurrency is real. Digital payments systems is real, so I think bitcoin is here to stay."

Coming Up This Week

Keep an eye out for more Biden administration appointments, both to his cabinet and his transition teams. It's been a tech-heavy group so far, and I don't see that changing.

The new meaningless TikTok deadline is Friday. I'd bet my whole turkey that it doesn't amount to anything.

Xiaomi, PureStorage and VMware all report earnings this week. U.S. markets are closed Thursday.

In Other News

One More Thing

A long-overdue apology

Lynn Conway was fired from IBM in 1968 after the company's leadership learned she was "undertaking a gender transition." It took more than five decades for the company to apologize, but The New York Times reported that it finally did so recently, giving Conway a lifetime achievement award for her work in tech. It's a welcome way to celebrate her remarkable career.

A MESSAGE FROM SYNCHRONY

SYNCHRONY

Contactless payments are no longer a nice to have.

At Synchrony, we understand the challenges of running a business. Our financial and technology solutions, like touchless payment tools, help you offer your customers more tailored experiences, so they keep coming back.

Learn more about our solutions.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day; see you tomorrow.

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