Shopping and selling online is a fabulous thing. From the comfort of your home you can peruse thousands of digital vendors and purchase pretty much anything your heart desires with the click of a button. Vendors, too, are taking advantage of enterprise ecommerce platforms to reach a global market, even with a limited advertising budget.
But it hasn’t always been this way. Below is a brief overview of the history of ecommerce, developing trends in the industry and what we can reasonably expect from the future.
A Click Back in Time
The specific origins of ecommerce are a little bit murky, especially since the term “ecommerce” wasn’t used coined until 1994 in Frontiers of Electronic Commerce. However, the “seminal act of ecommerce” according to journalist and author John Markoff was the digital sale of marijuana betweenstudents at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technologyover the military created ARPAnet in 1971.
It was during the 1970s and ‘80s that the first building blocks of ecommerce began to emerge including electronic funds transfers (EFT) and electronic data interchange (EDI). But it wasn’t until 1979 that English innovatorMichael Aldrich invented and demonstrated online shopping by connecting a modified TV set, a real-time transaction-processing computer and domestic phone line to order groceries to a disabled woman’s home. What’s even more astonishing is that the invention made no use of a personal computer (it was operated by TV remote) and connected via telephone number (no website or URL).
In 1984, CompuServe introduced the Electronic Mall, a digital meeting space where consumers could purchase goods for more than 100 online retailers — however, this wasn’t terribly popular.
The evolution of ecommerce stymied for a short while following restrictions by the U.S. Nation Science Foundation in 1986 limiting internet usage for academic purposes online. Thankfully, this unfortunate constraint was lifted in the early 90s.
The next milestone focused on security. In 1994, software and web company Netscape released SSL encryption to ensure a secure transfer of data between consumers and vendors. It didn’t take long for the first third-party credit card companies to join the fun, making it easier and safer for web users to shop online.
Then came the big dogs. Both Amazon and eBay launched in 1995, changing the digital landscape forever. Amazon took off running by tapping into the online book market and, after going public in 1997, expanded its inventory to selling nearly everything imaginable. eBay, of course, started out as a virtual auction but expanded its offerings as well.
Interesting side note, the first item ever sold on eBay was a broken laser pointer. When the founder contacted the buyer just to make sure he understood the purchase was damaged, the buyer replied, “I’m a collector of broken laser pointers,” via email. And so an empire was born.
The internet, arguably democratic by design, allowed for more people to break into ecommerce bymarketing their own products on enterprise ecommerce platforms. Shopify, a prominent storefront service, launched in 2006; with Magneto and BigCommerce following suit in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
But now the industry has arrived at yet another crossroad.
The Edge of an Evolution— A Future We Can Expect
There are a few burgeoning technologies transforming the industry today. They include the Internet of Things (IoT), chat bots and drones.
The IoT is already being explored by some enterprise ecommerce platforms and vendors. Amazon, for example, is using Dash buttons to make quick deliveries of commonly used products. Similarly, the web giant has employed Alexa, a digital assistant, to make online orders by voice command.
Which bring us to the next technological revolution — artificial intelligence. AI is being used to improve the customer experience through better product suggestions and improved customer service.
Recently, eBay has attempted to make it easier for shoppers to find recommended products across their extensive (and sometime overwhelming) site using AI. A new eBay section called Collective uses a “visual search engine” to curate interesting items without the need for keywords and tags, which are often lacking.
Additionally, chat bots are changing the way companies interact with customers. Instead of contacting a human at customer support during business hours, a chat bot can quickly address consumer problems in real time, no matter what time of day it is. While this may seem strange at first, it is actually improving customer satisfaction and alleviating staffing costs for ecommerce vendors.
Of course, nothing is more anticipated than the arrival of dronedelivery. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos expects that seeing drones in the sky will eventually be as common as seeing a mail truck drive by. There have been a few successful deliveries to date, but the industry is still waiting forFAA approval, advances in cybersecurity and solutions to some technological dilemmas.
While no one can divine the future, we can reasonably expect more technology, less human interaction, more competition, more shoppers and more developments in the balance between big-box ecommerce and more niche stores.
With all this excitement and industry growth, it is the perfect time to start your own adventure in ecommerce. Isn’t it time you got in on the action?