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Published 2020-06-02

Online marketplaces ready to rally as economies look to recover from coronavirus outbreak

Online marketplaces are predicted to bounce back strongly after the coronavirus outbreak, according to new research which reveals how surging demand for online goods and services is leading to higher valuations. The Marketplaces Report, compiled by Dealroom.co, on behalf of global online classifieds company Adevinta, investors Speedinvest and Point Nine, launched today.

  • Six in ten startups are well positioned to navigate the crisis 
  • Healthtech, online learning, recruitment, food delivery  and the so-called passion economy startups are seeing significant growth 
  • Online marketplaces have a value of US$ 814bn globally; but since late February valuations have been volatile
  • Travel, mobility and proptech companies have been hit hardest
  • A fifth of marketplace startups are vulnerable – almost 2,500 companies 

The report points to accelerating digital adoption behind the increase in the value of marketplaces operating in healthcare, pharmacies, grocery and food delivery, education and recruitment. However, large swathes of consumer spending are still undigitised, suggesting that much of the growth in the marketplace sector is still to come. Obstacles which had prevented early adoption of digital technology – including regulation – have been largely side-stepped during the crisis, allowing companies to see rapid growth. 

Share prices in US telemedicine firm Teladoc almost doubled in three months,  while digital pharmacy Shop Apothekee’s shares are more than double than their valuation at the end of January, as are shares in online job site Fiverr. 

“The coronavirus has put entire industries on hold, while in others it brought decades of progress in a few months. However, the crisis has also amplified the role of online marketplaces: by delivering trust and transparency to end users, they have the power to unlock supply, especially in sectors which until now were heavily regulated or lowly digitised. Healthcare and education are now experiencing huge digital demand which in some cases they are struggling to keep up with, Ovidiu Solomonov,  SVP for global markets at Adevinta, said.

“Since only a fraction of consumption is currently digitised, there is still huge growth potential in marketplaces as more consumers in markets around the world adapt rapidly to buying goods and services through online platforms. This had already caused huge disruption to the retail industry but following the pandemic will affect other sectors increasingly,” Mathias Ockenfels, General Partner, Speedinvest, said. 

“Covid has helped break barriers to technology adoption in a number of areas. In healthcare, education and industry specific B2B platforms, regulation or established business practices have previously hindered the transition to online marketplaces. The last three months have demonstrated that technology adoption, out of necessity, can create new opportunities much more quickly than previously envisaged,” Pawel Chudzinski, co-founder and managing partner of Point Nine capital, said.

Travel, mobility and proptech companies hit the hardest

Some of the most successful marketplaces such as travel, mobility and proptech have suffered the hardest from plunging valuations, because of the decision by governments around the world to shut down economies and the opportunity for people to mingle. Travel companies and mobility firms, which made up half (49%) of the US$814bn global marketplaces valuation last year, have seen share prices plummet by as much as 40% between January and May. 

Expedia and Booking.com have lost in the region of 30-40% off their respective share prices, while Lyft and Uber have seen valuations fall by  20 to 40%. Shares in Purplebricks are now 30% lower than they were at the end of January. The marketplaces report estimates that up to 2,500 startups could be vulnerable because of the virus and may not make it through the crisis.

How COVID-19 is fast-tracking digitisation

In contrast, one marketplace where there has been a decade’s worth of progress in just a few weeks is healthcare. The current  health crisis has accelerated the appetite for consumers to seek out medical supplies and services online and this marketplace is expected to see substantial digital growth going forward. 

Healthcare is seen as ripe for digitisation because of aging populations, difficulty finding staff and governments  starting to embrace technology, which is encouraging innovators. Healthcare startups have a combined valuation of $68bn but this is still small in comparison to the overall size of the market, which is mostly operating offline. 

Telemedicine and appointment booking, where patients can consult a doctor online is worth $15bn, while digital pharmacies are worth $13bn. When Doctolib surveyed its customers 74% of doctors said they would continue using video consultation after the pandemic and 80% of patients said they would continue to use the service. In March, US site Teladoc reported 15,000 requested visits per day (a 50% increase in March 2019).

Education has also been another beneficiary, with education apps being downloaded at four times the rate of last year.  Both for children and adult education, the opportunity and desire to learn online is creating opportunities for new marketplaces. Education is a $5tn dollar market, but most of the money is spent offline. Coronavirus lockdowns around the world could unlock the floodgates to this market. 

The rise of the passion economy

Another winner from the crisis is likely to be the so-called ‘passion economy’ –  the use of digital services to facilitate people’s passions and hobbies whether they be knitting, photography, crafting or studying.

Marketplaces, such as Udemy, an American online learning platform; CoachHub, a digital coaching platform; Jolt.io, an online business school; and meero, a marketplace for photographers, are tapping into our desire to learn new skills and empower people to monetise their passion digitally. 

This sector of the economy  is expected to see rapid growth in the coming months and years as a global recession, uncertainty and layoffs, mean that people seek out alternative sources of income and ways to develop their skills. 

The marketplace opportunity

The crisis has underlined the value of online marketplaces, showing that where  supply is unlocked, this sector has the ability to solve some of the world’s most pressing social issues. For example, car ownership and congestion in cities can be replaced by vehicles that are shared through a marketplace. If only a fraction of the money that is spent buying, insuring and maintaining cars was spent on using vehicles through a marketplace, this would be a huge opportunity. 

In housing, digital marketplaces are common for sales but we are yet to see the evolution of a marketplace that can tackle housing shortages or sustainability. And in work, the growing army of gig or freelance workers means that recruitment is moving from a marketplace used solely to find a position to one on which people depend for their income. An increasing number of people will rely on such a marketplace for both the distribution of jobs and for income.

Click here to download the marketplaces report 2020