The coming of the internet truly evoked a technotopia in which life would be reimagined, shaping a new world in which all of our needs and desires are fed to us through digital technology.
It would be a place for everyone, where no barriers disenfranchised groups of people. We would buy what we want and say what we feel.
Yet recent revolutions in digital technology never gave birth to that world. Reality curved in a different direction to the idealism of the era. But digital technology has within its power the ability to spread wider messages, build bigger structures, and open up more and more opportunities to more and more people.
And one area in which this is happening is ecommerce: data is demonstrating that digital access is, in fact, bolstering the growth of online shopping. In today’s environment, virtually anyone with an idea can set up a business and get selling online: with popular ecommerce solutions like WooCommerce and Shopify – although they’re unable to compete with heavyweight and heavy lifting ecommerce platforms like Salesforce B2C Commerce Cloud, which is the platform for large complex brands that need large and complex solutions – digital has lowered the bar for entry for both sellers and buyers.
Over the years we have been doing more and more online, everything from paying bills and watching shows to buying groceries and keeping in contact with friends and family – and all of this sped up and accelerated during the times of Covid.
Is digital democratizing?
Recent data has shown that digital access, connecting more people with services, products, and information, has demonstrated democratizing effects.
When you throw out words like “digital”, “the internet”, and “ecommerce”, the typical image is a young, fairly affluent, man; the TikTok generation that livestreams the unfolding of their lives – which are anchored to their phone and digital following.
Yet this image is completely distorted. Just as many 49-year-olds use the internet as a teen; and just as many women are online as men. And while the affluent are much more likely to stay connected digitally, the amount of people whose income is $30,000 or less having access to the internet jumped from 82% in 2019 to 86% in 2021.
Under the pandemic, more and more consumers have adapted to online after having restricted access to physical stores. And among these consumers, they were more likely to be female, over 40 years old, and have lower income.
Meanwhile, over in the UK, the average consumer that leapt from physical to digital were 53 years old and female.
Back in the US, the 9% of consumers who leapt to digital were largely older, female, and in lower income groups – regarding this last point, 37% of these consumers were making less than $50,000 annually.
Similar data was also found deep southwestwards, down under in Australia. Among the 6.3% of Aussies who made big digital shifts, the average age was just under 44 years old and female. The difference among the Aussies was that consumers within all income brackets increased their digital usage.
Over in South America’s largest country, digital movements strayed from this general pattern. Beginning with a lower level of diffusion, both low income groups and affluent groups in Brazil equally took to digital: 35% of rich Brazilians made the digital shift; while 39% of low income Brazilians took to it. Overall, the average age of these digital shifters was 42 years old. While the majority of shifters were also, like other areas of the world, female – 68% of them in fact.
So is digital democratic? There’s certainly a long way to go to arrive at the imagined utopia of techno-optimists. But judging from the latest data here, it is providing greater opportunities for people who were previously left offline.