There has been increasing political and regulatory interest in the role of platforms in Europe’s digital economy. In May 2015 the European Commission published its strategy to develop a Digital Single Market for Europe. As part of its strategy, the Commission has committed to analyse the role of online platforms. In this context, Google asked Oxera to consider how online platforms could be defined, and to assess how both consumers and businesses interact with, and benefit from, online platforms. This report contributes to this debate by answering two key questions:    • what is the definition of an online platform?  • what value do online platforms provide to European consumers and businesses?   

To answer these questions, Oxera first looked at the definition of online platforms. In order to understand the use of online platforms and their impacts on consumers and producers, Oxera has also undertaken primary research in the form of a survey of European consumers and a series of interviews with European businesses. These are supplemented by a detailed review of the literature on the subject. Oxera finds that the diversity of online platforms in terms of activity, sector, business model, and size is striking but there is no apparent commonality between them. There is currently no single definition of an online platform that captures the plurality of the online ecosystem. When a rigorous definition is needed (e.g. in a regulatory or antitrust context), the generic notion of ‘online platform’ does not seem fit for purpose.

The consumer survey results indicate that almost all consumers (97% of Internet users) believe there are benefits from different types of online platforms. The most widely cited benefits relate to improved convenience, greater choice and increased transparency.

The business case studies provide evidence that online platforms can support new and different types of businesses, reduce costs (particularly those incurred in targeting search efforts) and reduce the impacts of geographic barriers.

More detail on the approach and further analysis can be found in the technical appendix.
The English transcript of the consumer survey is reproduced in a separate document.

Contact: David Jevons