This month marks the 20th birthday of ecommerce – it’s been two decades since NetMarket sold “Ten Summoner’s Tales” by Sting (as a physical CD, of course, not a download – we weren’t that advanced back then, plus the disc would have taken hours to download on dial-up). We’ve come a long way since SSL technology finally enabled secure payments by protecting personal information and Amazon sold only books. Now, the online retailer sells everything from boots to bookends, and has millions of competitors aiming for a piece of the online sales pie.
Over the years, we’ve seen ecommerce go from a niche element to a mainstay of our lives, touching on various trends such as social commerce, subscriptions, group buying, flash sales, and more. A few of the notable ecommerce milestones over the years include:
1994: NetMarket sells Sting CD
1994: Amazon registers its domain name
1995: Amazon makes its first sale and eBay comes on to the scene
1997: Amazon went public; eBay conducted $95 million in sales
1998: PayPal offers a new, secure way to pay online
1999: Alibaba Group was created in China; Salesforce founded as an early SaaS innovator; Netflix introduced monthly subscriptions
2000: Pets.com ran $1.2 million Super Bowl ad, went public, and folded – all in one year
2003: iTunes Store opened, selling music downloads
2004: Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI) was formed to protect buyers
2005: Amazon launched Prime membership with free two-day shipping, Web 2.0 concept becomes widespread
2006: Amazon Web Services officially launched, a first step in making it easier for software to be delivered online
2006: Avangate launched its commerce platform for software and digital goods (well, it’s our blog post, had to squeeze it in :-)
2007: iPhone was released, Facebook tried social commerce with Beacon, Gilt Groupe launched online flash sales, and there were over 70 million Cyber Monday shoppers
2011: Groupon IPO marked pinnacle of group buying; Adobe launched Creative Cloud online subscription version of its Creative Suite software
2012: Square makes any mobile device into a credit card reader
2013: China sets new record in online sales in one day with more than $5B shopping spree on Alibaba’s Singles’ Day
2014: Mobile commerce expected to total $114 billion, B2C ecommerce $1.47 trillion
It’s clear that (e)commerce has come a long way since 1994, and there’s still plenty of room for growth, both in general and across new devices: mobile commerce may represent 25 percent of all commerce sales by 2016 according to eMarketer, and Forrester predicts online sales will represent 11 percent of total US retail sales by 2018.
In just 20 years, buying online has become deeply entrenched in the fabric of commerce and our lives, as people and as professionals. Over the years, ecommerce has evolved from a stressful operation involving pixelated shopping cart icons and lots of soothing security badges to a smooth process that few people think twice about. Primary concerns with online commerce now are not just security but also convenience – how fast can the purchase be completed and the item be delivered? Amazon’s Prime membership, local lockers, and drone deliveries are just a few of the aggressive innovations in this space. But with many SaaS companies and online services in play, plenty of sales involve no physical delivery.
The multitude of options for information and purchases also ensures a truly individual buying process. The era of the monolithic path to purchase and rigid PO system is fading into the background as flexible recurring billing solutions based on consumer needs enter into the enterprise space as well.
Given the dominance of ecommerce in our lives, we think this 20th anniversary may be the time for (e)commerce to finally become simply commerce, with the term expanding to encompass web, mobile, and multi-channel buying as shopper habits continue to evolve.
After all, we process information across so many channels online and offline, that it’s impossible to segment out digital purchases anymore. We may see a physical ad at a bus stop, a digital ad on the Facebook mobile app, and an online banner ad on a news site before making an online purchase that we pick up in store. With the boundaries between the web and the world so blurred, ecommerce is truly just commerce these days.
Just like the single on the Sting album that was the first online purchase, commerce everywhere has the potential to create “Fields of Gold” for all the merchants who participate.
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