Interest in the role of online platforms in Europe’s digital economy is increasing, bringing benefits for consumers and businesses.
Following the publication of the European Commission’s strategy to develop a Digital Single Market, Oxera in 2015 sought to define online platforms and to assess how consumers and businesses interact with and benefit from them. To address these goals, Oxera surveyed European consumers and conducted interviews with European businesses to ascertain their perspectives.
Analysis of a survey distributed online to 1,500 consumers in France, Germany, Poland and Spain differentiates between the types of online platforms based on key activities for which they are used by consumers. This list includes:
Usage patterns for each of these platform types remained consistent across the four countries surveyed, with communication and information platforms being utilized most frequently. Nearly all consumers (97 percent of Internet users) surveyed reported that they believe there are benefits from different types of online platforms, particularly improved convenience, greater choice and increased transparency. In France and Germany, for example, consumers reported saving 50 minutes by using information platforms. This measure increased to saving 100 minutes among Polish consumers.
To examine how businesses use online platforms, Oxera compiled several case studies from interviews with 14 businesses to provide an overview of the wide range of experience in the digital ecosystem. Four processes were identified as vital to the daily life of companies:
For businesses, the case studies revealed several themes: that online platforms reduce the impact of geographic barriers, that they support new and different types of businesses with regards to funding, and that they change the cost structures of businesses.
From analysis of both the online survey results and the case studies, Oxera concluded that there is no single definition of an online platform that would be particularly helpful for policymaking purposes. While serving roles in bringing people and businesses together, the concept of an “online platform” brings together too dissimilar websites/apps operating in distinct markets.