Flywheel: The Global Vision for E-commerce


JEGI CLARITY’s 20th Annual Media & Technology Conference in New York City brought together senior executives and investors from across the global media, marketing, information, and technology sectors.

The Conference finished on a high with a captivating session featuring Wilma Jordan, Founder and CEO, North America of JEGI CLARITY, in conversation with Duncan Painter, Chief Executive Officer of Flywheel, in a session titled, Flywheel: The Global Vision for E-commerce.

Stellar track record of build and sell

Wilma began by introducing Duncan, highlighting his stellar track record of building and selling businesses with achievements including a $848m deal for WGSN with private equity Apax Partners and the sale of Flywheel Digital to Omnicom for $835m. Duncan shared insights from his career, from founding consumer intelligence provider ClarityBlue, to navigating the challenges of transforming Emap from a company with zero market value through an IPO, generating a 1.5x return.

My first 180-day plan at Emap was just to stop us having to hand the keys back… stopping us going bankrupt was basically the mission.

Omnicom’s purchase of Flywheel

Transitioning to Duncan’s current role within Omnicom, the conversation turned towards retail marketplaces as a pivotable force shaping the digital landscape, and the impact they will have on the consumer orientated purchase industry. Duncan highlighted the seismic changes looming and cited John Wren, Omnicom’s Group CEO, for his foresight in positioning the organization at the forefront of change with the purchase of Flywheel.

Future of E-commerce

The discussion naturally progressed to Duncan’s perspectives on the evolving landscape of e-commerce and the future of retail.

The retail market, including retail marketplaces and retail media, is poised to undergo significant changes in the digital industry. This shift is often misunderstood, yet it represents the next major transformation in the field.

Duncan emphasized the dynamic nature of retail markets, comparing them to the stock market. He highlighted that the role of first party data is one part of the change but emphasized that the most significant element will be the provision, for the first time ever, of direct-to-consumer capabilities at mass scale with a real time view of trading across all environments. He quoted staggering statistics demonstrating Flywheel’s influence across global marketplaces with ownership of 50% of the top consumer packaged goods (CPG), 6,000 clients that use their platforms across 29 countries globally.

Throughout the day, our systems and teams constantly monitor trading activities across all our platforms in real time. The gross merchandise value (GMV) we influence amounts to hundreds of billions.

He continued by explaining that when they started to build Flywheel in 2015, they realized that they had to be inside the walled gardens of the marketplaces, building and leveraging capability for their brands. This approach not only allows the manufacturer to meet, and sell to their customers directly, but to know how every single US$ spent performs, allowing for pure retail optimization.

The future of bricks and mortar retail

With this retail trajectory, Duncan predicted that there will still be physical stores in 20-30 years, however they will be transformed into warehouses for collection rather than for customer facing retail space. With online retail sales expected to meet 40% of market share by next year and grow to 60-70% in the next five years, Duncan stressed the importance of a digital first approach, particularly as Generation Alpha had already reached 97% digital engagement.

If you aren’t a digitally enabled and digital first business, able to leverage and in a world where marketplaces will be the norm, then you are not really prepared for this 10-15 year wave.

The role of humans in future retail

Wilma inquired about the impact of digital retail on the retail workforce in the next 10 years with Duncan explaining a shift towards a more dynamic approach, where retailers would need to be “hedge fund managers rather than portfolio managers”. He explained that last year 70% of net growth on marketplaces within Amazon in the US came from direct brands from China trading directly, selling to the US population. He warned that Western retailers need to rethink their sales strategies to remain competitive against East Asian retailers whose P&Ls don’t include high salaried product, sales, and marketing directors, and therefore having the ability to invest in optimizing their products on retail marketplaces.

The current global landscape is undergoing significant changes. Traditional barriers to building, creating, and selling are diminishing, while economic models are evolving rapidly, facilitated by the rise of global marketplaces. This transformation is occurring so swiftly that many organizations have not fully grasped the implications of these shifts.

The rise of retail media

With the retail media market growing 100% year on year, even before optimization is realized, Duncan believed it will become the largest retail platform, boasting unparalleled attribution capabilities, “for the first time ever attribution is pure.” He underscored its transformative potential in advertising effectiveness and revenue generation, particularly evident in Amazon’s revenue streams.

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