Unbundling is a business process where a series of products or blocks inside a value chain is broken down to provide better value by removing the parts of the value chain that are less valuable to consumers and keeping those that, in a period in time, consumers value the most.
- What does unbundling mean in business?
- What are some examples of bundling?
- When does bundling lose its impact?
- What are some examples of unbundling?
- When does unbundling make more sense?
- Bunding and unbundling in continuous conflict and balance
- Other waves and macro-trends
- Related Innovation Frameworks
What does unbundling mean in business?
Usually, in business, depending on the context, companies might gain a competitive advantage by either bundling or unbundling some of the activities within a value chain.
Usually, when a company has gained monopoly power, it will use bundling to make consumers get its whole set of products and lock them by leveraging its existing distribution networks (Microsoft Windows is an example).
Unbundling is the opposite process when a newcomer enters a traditional and established industry by removing the parts of the value chain less valuable to consumers and only capturing the monetizable and highly valued part (think of how Amazon unbundled retail stores).
What are some examples of bundling?
Some examples of bundling comprise:
Microsoft Windows on PCs
As Microsoft became a tech giant throughout the PC era, it managed to build a strong distribution network to be able to lock in consumers in the PC market for decades.
Indeed, Microsoft bundled its Windows in computers before they got purchased.
Thus, encouraging manufacturers to push Microsoft’s products.
Bundling, if abused by a monopolist, can turn into anti-competitive behavior.
Google Chrome on Android Devices
One of the most successful Google acquisitions has been Android, which enabled the company to stay on top of the game throughout the mobile devices era.
In this context, some Google products (such as Google Chrome) are bundled by default within hardware Andoird devices.
This enables Google to keep also a competitive advantage in its core business model, as the company can capture the whole data pipeline.
OpenAI Unbundling Google?
In recent years, AI has incredibly evolved to the point of becoming able to provide precise answers at scale.
In short, for years, Google has been tweaking its algorithms at scale to give users direct answers to their questions.
This led to the explosion of websites like Quora, and Google itself evolved to enable more direct answers with featured snippets.
However, with the incredible evolution of language and generative models, now we’re living in a scenario where machines exist.
Take this example from ChatGPT, where I jokingly asked the machine to explain whether it would compete with Google, and that’s what it said.
Of course, there is no intention or conscious understanding behind it.
But the interesting part is that this scenario might now be that far-fetched.
When does bundling lose its impact?
When a technological wave loses traction, bundling becomes ineffective.
Indeed, when a new technological wave comes in, products that before dominated it become obsolete, thus opening the space for new companies to take over the distribution pipelines.
For example, as the PC era deteriorates, Microsoft is quickly losing its bundling power with Windows products.
Another example is how the Google business model will lose its bundling power when the mobile era ends.
Bundling can last decades depending on how long a specific technology is popular and how long a company can keep its dominant position.
What are some examples of unbundling?
Unbundling becomes extremely appealing when a whole industry has been built on the building logic.
Therefore, the player can identify the most valuable part of the value chain for the consumer and offer it at a more convenient price (thus breaking the trade-off between value and cost at the core of a blue ocean strategy).
Unbundling becomes a powerful force.
Apple’s iTunes unbundled albums
When Apple introduced iTunes, it unbundled the CDs and albums.
You no longer needed to buy an entire CD to listen to the single song you wanted.
Therefore Apple’s iTunes unbundled CDs by offering single songs at 99 cents.
Amazon’s e-commerce unbundled retail
When Amazon enabled consumers to buy at a convenient price and selection on its platform, it started to unbundle retail.
In short, on Amazon, you could pick only what you wanted the most by navigating through several online stores at once.
This process is still ongoing and a powerful force.
Google unbundled newspapers
When Google indexed the whole web, it enabled readers to pick articles from several websites without having to go through parts of them that they might have found less interesting (classified ads, job boards, and so on).
Therefore, in a way, Google worked as an unbundling force toward the publishing industry.
When does unbundling make more sense?
If you are a newcomer in an industry where unbundling can guarantee strong growth, that can serve as a competitive advantage.
As existing players that control the market might be too slow, ineffective, and in a conflict of interest with their own consumers, the unbundled has a great opportunity to take over.
Bunding and unbundling in continuous conflict and balance
It’s interesting to notice how bundling and unbundling might be tied to how companies evolve.
When a company eventually takes over an industry that becomes mature, the company that once leveraged on unbundling to take over an industry will become the one who bundles to leverage its distribution network.
At that stage, newcomers surfing the wave of an emerging and fast-growing industry can use unbundling as a core business strategy.
Other waves and macro-trends
The digital era has brought several business waves that led to the creation of new industries and companies, once newcomers, then become giants themselves.
Let’s look at some of those trends that shaped and shaped the business world in the web era.
Where Unbundling looks at the product offering to break down what’s most valuable and offer it more conveniently.
The classic example is how platform business models have been disintermediating several industries.
As they did so, former intermediaries were wiped out, and the whole market grew.
Yet, this process often leads to the consolidation of a new ecosystem created by the super-platform.
As this ecosystem adapts to the new rules and policies created by the super-platform (implicit or explicit).
The ecosystem adapts to it, and the new intermediaries that enhance that ecosystem spring up.
For instance, Amazon is disintermediating the delivery industry with last-mile delivery.
That might create a situation where key players that have existed for decades (FedEx, DHL) might be kicked out of the marketplace or remain niche players with marginal market shares.
That might happen as Amazon might create a much larger industry, driven by its last-mile delivery ecosystem that might favor the birth of new intermediaries aligned with Amazon’s last-mile delivery policies.
This process of reintermediation will help industries and markets to be born on top of new ecosystems made of incentives and disincentives.
In a decoupling process, the decoupler takes the most valuable part of the customer value chain and it offers it to customers.
That is how it gains traction.
In a coupling process, instead, the coupler expands in new areas and activities that might seem disconnected from the overall business model, and yet, the way those activities are offered to final customers also enhances the whole business model.
Related Innovation Frameworks
- History of SpaceX
- History of AOL
- History of PayPal
- History of WeWork
- History of Ethereum
- History of Trader Joe’s
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