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区块链国际资讯

《福布斯》:区块链在零售业发展中的四大机遇

如今,区块链技术正以惊人的速度在向前发展。对于零售商来说,如果你忽略了它,或者认为你准备等到“以后”才开始关注它,那么,现在就是“以后”了。

尽管区块链不会立即对零售业产生革命性的影响,但如今这个行业已经集聚了足够多的创新、投资和变革潜力。比如在今天这篇文章中,我们就来谈谈区块链在以下四个领域的发展机遇。

消费者支付

当你的家人开始谈论购买比特币时,那说明它已经被大多数消费者所了解。加密货币有可能解决消费者乐天堂娱乐领域的一些实际问题。在McKinsey的采访中,区块链公司高级副总裁Liana Douillet Guzman表示,目前,25亿人被拒于乐天堂娱乐体系之外,而每12个美国人中就有1个无法享受到乐天堂娱乐服务。在这种体系之外的交易成本可能非常高,特别是涉及到移民向家乡转钱时。Douillet Guzman举了一个例子,有人向菲律宾汇款200美元,在那里,交易费用可能高达12美元,而通过比特币的交易费用可能只用12“便士”。

高昂的交易成本限制了市场发展。从基础经济学角度来看,即一个商品或服务的高价格会抑制商品或服务的需求。我们以中美两国的移动支付市场为例:Hillhouse Captial与Kleiner Perkins的合作调查显示,美国信用卡交易的成本超过200个基本点,而微信或支付宝则不到50个。2016年,中国移动支付市场(部分由微支付推动)达到了5万亿美元,而美国只有1120亿美元。比特币和其他加密货币之所以如此流行的原因之一就是它们可能帮助人们避免“昂贵”的支付成本。

因此从消费者的角度来看,加密货币存在大量需求的潜力。但是目前来讲,设置数字钱包、访问加密货币交易所并开始购买加密货币是一个非常复杂的过程。有没有办法使这个流程更容易?新加坡创业公司TenX正在将其数字货币钱包连接到Visa钱包,使消费者可以使用Visa卡来购买加密货币。另一家名叫BitPay的公司为销售点提供了一种比特币购买服务,以便零售商可以接受加密货币作为付款方式。一些零售商已经开始接受比特币作为支付方式,比如俄国的汉堡王。

尽管如此,市场面临的挑战仍然还有很多,而最大的问题是加密货币价格的高度波动性。例如以太坊这种加密货币就因为其创始人在车祸中死亡的假消息损失了40亿美元的市值。而比特币的交易费用则从两年前的5美分增长到今年的5美元。而未来十年,比特币可能会彻底崩溃,或者飙升10万美元一枚。

当然,其中的一些价格波动是由技术进展所推动的,这一点很重要。8月1日,比特币经历了所谓的“分叉”,这种加密货币被分为比特币和比特币现金。这种分开的推动因素就是社区有人希望在区块链中创建更大的区块,这在理论上可以加快交易进程的速度。但是目前比特币现金的市场流动性非常差,这意味着随着交易所调整其技术以接纳比特币现金,其价值可能会进一步下降。

而且这些加密货币市场的安全性还没有得到保证。就在上个月,韩国最大的交易所之一遭到黑客攻击,三万个帐户遭到入侵,而且其损失并不能完全由联邦存款保险公司的保险覆盖。对于账户持有人来说,该交易所承诺的还款金额约为85美元,根据账户的价值计算,这一比例将会下滑。这并不是那种让普通消费者在持有或使用加密货币时容易安心的新闻。

产品信息验证与追踪

区块链是一种分布式账簿,在这种环境中造假非常困难。而这种技术优势使其具备了和货币一样的市场吸引力。通过区块链技术,从供应商到制造商再到托运人,每个环节都可以在产品信息链中增加可验证信息,帮助维护产品信息的可靠度。

有了这种技术,高仿的奢侈品(比如爱马仕或者路易威登的皮包)想要以次充好可能就没那么容易了。而在食品行业中,区块链也能帮助人们更好地追踪食品安全。换句话说,区块链可以保证独特商品(如艺术品或超级碗票)的真实性,有助于提高和维护转售市场信心。

目前,有不少创业公司和软件解决方案都看中了这一市场。可以想象,未来区块链技术在这一零售市场环节将得到极大地开发和利用。

B2B支付

加密货币面临的最大挑战之一是能否被看作一种真正的货币。为了实现这一目标,银行必须愿意持有加密货币作为存款,并参与以加密货币兑换现金的市场行为。目前,银行正在试验区块链技术,而且不止涉及吸收存款或交易货币这几个方面。比如来自世界各地的28家银行目前正在参与一项SWIFT推动的区块链概念验证,以确定他们是否可以使用这种技术来解决跨境交易。

在银行业之外,区块链被更多地以“智能合约”的形式出现。通常,通过这种随时间推移而自动更新的私有区块链,买家、卖家还有第三方的所有举动都能得到有效记录。目前,由15家银行参与组成的R3区块链联盟正在评估区块链能否被用来取代传统的信用证。

对于零售商来说,如果区块链技术有朝一日可以真的完成概念验证,那么零售商的书面工作负担就会更少,信息交流就能变得更数字化,而跨国多方交易难度也将进一步降低。

数字广告

在数字广告行业,透明度一直是饱受争议的一大问题。

原因之一在于盲目的市场竞价,即广告市场平台利用盲目竞价,给卖家和买家同时带来损失。

此外,机器人的兴起也是造成这一现象的一个因素。这种机器人的外观和行为与人类相似,他们会在并在没有任何人看过广告的情况下,向需求方收取广告费用。而在有些情况下,虽然广告出现在了网站上,但其内容实际上却对品牌造成了损害,这同样会给广告买家造成损失。

目前,大型数字广告公司以及互动广告局正在试验区块链,看看它是否能解决一些数字广告的问题。

广告技术领域的问题在于速度。区块链的确非常安全,但速度却不快,至少现在来看是无法满足实时数字市场竞价要求的。虽然已经出现了一些概念和一些初步努力,但这个领域整体还没有产生什么可行的“解决方案”,这与供应链跟踪甚至B2B支付不同。所以这一个是最遥远的,但即使如此也足以引起零售行业的巨大潜在影响。

零售商:关注区块链

零售商必须认识到,区块链时代已经到来。目前,这一技术在消费者和商业应用领域已经有了足够的发展,现在是时候关注这种技术以及下一步发展方向了。

Bitcoin, blockchain, distributed ledgers, cryptocurrencies – you could almost forget about IoT and big data, with the way people are talking about blockchain these days. The developments around the technology are proceeding at a breath-taking pace, and for retailers, if you were ignoring it or thinking you’d wait until later to start paying attention, well, later has arrived.

While blockchain is not going to revolutionize retail tomorrow, there are enough changes coming and enough real players involved in innovation and investment, that retailers need to pay attention to how it will impact their industry.

I’m not going to define blockchain or how it works. If you want that, I recommend this series of articles, as I found them to be extremely helpful (and basic). But whether you understand how it works or not, here are four big changes, in order from closest to coming to fruition, to farthest away.

Consumer payments

When your in-laws start talking about buying Bitcoins, it’s fair to say it has hit a level of general consumer awareness. Crypto-currencies have the potential to solve some real problems in the consumer financial world. In a McKinsey interview, Liana Douillet Guzman, the senior vice president for growth at Blockchain, said 2.5 billion people are currently outside of a financial system, including 1 in 12 Americans. The transaction costs of being outside that system can be very high, especially when you’re talking about immigrants sending money back home. Douillet Guzman cited an example of someone sending $200 to the Philippines, where the transaction fee might be as high as $12 for a traditional transaction vs. “pennies” via Bitcoin (more on those pennies in a moment).

High transaction costs constrain a market. That’s basic economics in the sense that a high price for a good or service depresses demand for the good or service. Compare mobile payments in China vs. the US: according to Hillhouse Captial, in partnership with Kleiner Perkins, a US credit card transaction costs over 200 basis points, vs. less than 50 for WeChat or AliPay (see slide 222). In 2016, the mobile payment market (driven in part by micropayments) in China reached $5 trillion, yes with T, vs. $112 billion in the US. One of the reasons why Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies are getting such buzz is because they offer an opportunity to bypass “expensive” forms of payment for something much cheaper – if crypto-currencies can keep their transactions “cheap”.

So there is the potential for a lot of demand for crypto-currencies from a consumer perspective, but right now it’s a pretty complex process to set up a digital wallet, gain access to a crypto-currency exchange, and start buying up coins (and not all crypto-currencies are Bitcoin. Heck, even Bitcoin isn’t always Bitcoin). Is there a way to make that easier? One startup in Singapore, TenX, is connecting its digital currency wallet to a Visa wallet, making it possible for consumers to use a Visa card to spend crypto-currencies. Another company, BitPay, offers a Bitcoin payment integration to point of sale, so that retailers can accept the crypto-currency as a form of payment. Some retailers are already accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment, including Burger Kings in Russia.

But there are still a lot of challenges. The biggest one is that the value of crypto-currencies is very volatile. One crypto-currency, Ethereum, lost $4B in market value on the fake news that its founder had died in a car crash. And those “cheap” transaction fees, that made crypto-currencies so attractive? Bitcoin’s transaction fee has grown from 5 cents two years ago, to as high as $5 this year. And depending who you want to listen to, Bitcoin is either going to crash and burn or hit $100,000 per coin in the next ten years.

Some of that volatility is technology-driven, which is important to remember. On August 1, Bitcoin underwent what’s called a “fork” where the currency split into Bitcoin and Bitcoin cash. The split was driven by a desire to create larger blocks in the blockchain, which will theoretically make it faster to process transactions. But Bitcoin Cash, or bcash as it’s becoming known, is not worth anything approaching Bitcoin, and right now the market for bcash is very illiquid, which means as exchanges adapt their technology to accept bcash, the value could fall even more.

And the security of some of these crypto-currency markets is not assured. As recently as last month, an exchange in South Korea was hacked, one of the largest exchanges out there. Thirty-thousand accounts were compromised, and they’re not exactly FDIC-insured. For account holders, the exchange is promising approximately $85 in repayment, with a sliding scale depending on how much value was in the account. That’s not the kind of news that lets the average consumer rest easy when it comes to holding or using crypto-currencies.

Product Pedigree

This one has lots of nuances. Blockchain, because it is a distributed ledger, makes counterfeiting very hard. That’s part of the value of the technology that makes it attractive as a currency. Blockchain makes it possible for every legitimate touch in a supply chain – from a supplier to a manufacturer to a shipper – to add a verifiable record to an item’s pedigree.

This has applications like making it harder to pass off that Hermes or Louis Vuitton bag as “genuine” when it’s not. It makes country of origin labeling and product safety tracking easier in things like the food supply chain, where blockchain makes it possible to record every touchpoint in the lifespan of a product as it moves through the supply chain, from farm to fork. It also has applications for assuring the authenticity of unique goods, like art or Super Bowl tickets. This can also be adapted to ensure confidence in resale markets.

There are a whole host of startups and software solutions that are targeted toward addressing these various use-cases and it’s pretty easy to say this is the next most-developed area of blockchain within retail.

B2B payments

One of the biggest challenges for crypto-currencies is acceptance as a real currency. To get there, banks would have to be willing to hold crypto-currencies as deposits, and participate in exchanging crypto-currencies for cold, hard cash. Right now, banks are experimenting with blockchain technology, not just to take deposits or trade currencies. Twenty-eight banks from around the world are currently participating in a SWIFT-driven blockchain proof of concept to determine if they can use it to settle cross border transactions.

Outside of banking, blockchain is being proposed more in terms of “smart contracts”, basically private blockchains that update automatically over time, recording all of the actions taken in regards to the contract, whether the buyer, the seller, or third parties acting on either party’s behalf. The R3 Consortium, with 15 participating banks, are currently evaluating whether blockchain can be used to replace traditional letters of credit.

For retailers that will mean less paperwork, more digital exchanges of information, and smoother transactions across borders and across multiple parties – once it gets out of proof of concept phase.

Digital Advertising

In digital advertising, a lack of transparency is hurting the industry. Some of it comes from blind market bidding, where ad marketplaces are getting accused of taking advantage of the blind bidding, at both sellers’ and buyers’ expense.

Some of it comes from the rise of bots, which look and act like humans, and generate ad payments to demand side platforms without any actual human having seen the ad. And some of it comes to ad buyers in the form of ads placed on sites where the association with the site’s content is actually damaging to the brand.

The big digital agencies as well as the Interactive Advertising Bureau are experimenting with blockchain to see if it will solve some of digital advertising’s problems.

The problem in the adtech space is speed. Blockchain as it exists is very secure, but it’s not very fast. It’s definitely not fast enough for the real-time market bids that happen in digital. While there are some proofs of concept and some initial efforts, there aren’t a lot of “solutions” in this space, unlike with supply chain tracking or even B2B payments. So this one is the farthest off, but even so is compelling enough to have big potential impact on the retail industry.

Retailers: Pay Attention To Blockchain

The bottom line for retailers is that blockchain is not going anywhere. And there have been enough developments out there across both consumer and business applications out there, that it is time to pay attention to the technology, and where it’s headed next.


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