2017’s biggest business questions

What a year!

As this exciting year heads to a close, it is a great time to take stock and look back at some of the biggest business questions 2017 will leave behind. From digital currency to online retail and beyond, the American business landscape has seen some interesting stories come across the newswires. but some important questions might not be answered by New Year’s. Here’s a look back at some of the biggest business questions of 2017.

The 5 biggest business questions of 2017

2017 was a big year for currency technologies and big-ticket takeovers. As the year draws to a close, we name the year’s five top business questions.

  1. What’s the future of cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin?

  2. Will Amazon dominate grocery?

  3. Will brick-and-mortar retail survive?

  4. Will airlines finally embrace customer service?

  5. And what about health insurance?

Remember these? No? Read on for a refresher.

1. What’s the future of cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin?

Prior to 2017, few outside of the technology and investment communities knew much about Bitcoin or could tell you what a cryptocurrency is. But in 2017, the value of one Bitcoin rocketed from $996 per coin on January 1 to more than $5,600 per coin in October. This gave investors around the world an opportunity to earn big in digital currencies.

Business Questions Bitcoin
Goldman Sachs came out in support of Bitcoin late in 2017.

While there are some advocates touting the benefits of digital currencies, most of which operate using a system called blockchain, Bitcoin has many skeptics. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon believes in the blockchain technology, but calls Bitcoin itself a “fraud” and the SEC warns the public against the risks of schemes in the Wild West of initial coin offerings and other digital currencies.

Bottom line: Will Bitcoin go to $100,000 or to $0? Time will tell.

2. Will Amazon dominate grocery?

In August, online retail juggernaut Amazon purchased upscale natural grocer Whole Foods. The $13.7 billion sale makes Amazon a formidable player in the already ultra-competitive grocery industry. Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons/Safeway, Costco, Publix and other major food sellers are right to be worried.

Business Questions Amazon Buys Whole Foods
Amazon rocked grocery stocks with news of its purchase of grocery chain Whole Foods.

The day of the Amazon/Whole Foods announcement saw grocery stocks beaten down as investors expect Whole Foods to take a bite out other grocers’ market share. Amazon lowered some store prices by more than 40 percent on day one, but many prices remain unchanged.

Bottom line: Will Amazon’s foray into the grocery world turn the largest online retailer into the largest grocery chain, or will CEO Jeff Bezos’s ambitions fizzle? We won’t know at the end of the year. This is a story to follow into 2018.

3. Will brick-and-mortar retail survive?

Speaking of Amazon, the entire world of retail is turning upside down with a shift in buying preferences to the web. eCommerce is only growing in sales and popularity, and a preference for online shopping is quickly spreading from millennials to older generations of shoppers.

While Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, is standing up to the threat from the web, not all chains have fared as well. Sears Holdings, owner of Sears and Kmart stores, is at risk of closing for good. JC Penney, a longtime anchor at American malls, is struggling to stay afloat. Toys “R” Us filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September.

Business Questions Brick and Mortar
Sears, Kmart and JC Penney are at risk of going the way of the bankrupt Toys “R” Us.
Photo: Yuriy Trubitsyn on Unsplash

Bottom line: Many retailers are struggling for survival. It is clear that many won’t make it, but will the traditional retail industry survive as a whole? 2017 saw retail stores large and small battle to keep customers. Will the convenience of the web lure them away for good?

4. Will airlines finally embrace customer service?

On April 9, United Airlines oversold a flight and let passengers board anyway. When no one would voluntarily give up their seat to allow a crew relocation, United picked a random passenger to go. When Dr. David Dao refused to give up his seat, police physically dragged him off the plane, causing serious injury to Dao and trauma to everyone on board.

After the video went viral on social media, a string of negative incidents involving United and other airlines made headlines.

The current climate of air travel is not an overly positive one. Airlines cram more passengers into each plane, causing discomfort and frustration among passengers. New fare classes, baggage rules and poor customer service experiences have customers and airlines butting heads on a daily basis.

Bottom line: Will airlines finally embrace customer service, or will this trend of negative incidents continue into the future?

5. And what about health insurance?

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is one of the most contentious pieces of U.S legislation in decades. As insurers threaten to leave some counties without coverage (all counties have at least one option for 2018), rising healthcare costs are causing leaders from both parties to look for opportunities for improvement.

Business Questions Healthcare
At year’s end, U.S. healthcare was still an open question with no resolution in sight.
Photo: Visual Hunt

However, there is no agreement on what that improvement should look like. Some senators and representatives, along with President Trump, want to completely repeal Obama’s signature healthcare bill. Others are interested in repairing major issues while leaving the core of the law intact. At the same time, a small but growing group is following former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in a push for Medicare for All. A lack of action in Washington has led to relief for some and frustration for others.

Bottom line: One thing is certain, this debate is far from over.

Business questions notwithstanding

While 2017 left us with plenty of business questions, it also leaves behind some great business results. The year saw record highs in the stock market — 48 of them as of this writing. Though some industries struggled, many others continually hit record profits and surprised analysts with stellar results.

2018 is certain to leave us with many business questions as well, but 2017 is leaving a lot up in the air.

One thing’s for sure, eCommerce and the internet continue to have a massive impact in the business world. Both small businesses and large enterprises alike regularly leverage the power of technology, and that is not going to change anytime soon.

Image by: VisualHunt