A Brief History of E-Commerce

Within 20 years, the retail industry has lost quite a bit of its world-wide dominance, and e-commerce is taking its place. Even though retailers have suffered, e-store owners have seen a rise in revenues. Here is a brief look at the e-commerce landscape.

The first computers were not connected to the Internet, and were mainly used for data storage, programming, and other mundane tasks. Internet connectivity was relatively rare, and most companies that had e-commerce websites used the Internet as a proxy. Things changed in 1979, when CompuServe started to partner with various Internet Service Providers, offering its subscribers access to a few web-related services: daily news, weather reports, and so on.

Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 1994. The e-store began its activity as an online book seller, and then started to sell electronics, furniture, jewelry, and more. Ten years later, Amazon surpassed Walmart, becoming the most valuable retailer in the U.S. Today, the company continues to focus on e-commerce, even though it has successfully entered the cloud computing and digital streaming markets.

Pierre Omidyar founded eBay in 1995, and his e-commerce corporation quickly became a hit. Today, the company operates in over 30 countries, allowing people and businesses to sell their products and services worldwide. To increase profits, the site also offers instant shopping, advertising space, event ticket trading, and more.

Let us fast-forward to 2000, when the Electronic Commerce Act passed, providing government regulation and consumer protection for Internet purchases, introducing electronic signatures, and offering liability protection for businesses selling products over the web.

Three major innovations have shaped the current e-commerce landscape:

1. Web Communities

The first digital marketplace was the online bulletin board system (BBS). People subscribed to BBSs, where they could post their ads and requests. Forum moderators would approve the posts, and then other users would post replies.

Ward Christensen conceived the first public dial-up BBS. He built the system being inspired by the cork board his local computer club used to post information like "need a ride". The platform connected over 250,000 people before being retired.

In the late 1990s, Yahoo! began offering a new "user-to-user" platform that allowed any website to incorporate a BBS, letting users communicate directly. Then, forums become an important part of the Yahoo! communities. People could register on these forums, and then post information about products or services that they wanted to buy or sell.

2. Social Networking

The next big thing was social networking. While Facebook started out as a board for college students, it quickly evolved into a social network with billions of users, and it allowed companies to create blogs, online communities, contests, and more. After the initial success of Facebook, other companies such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Meetup followed suit and offered similar services to their users.

3. E-Commerce Platforms

The Internet evolved to provide e-commerce tools, such as shopping carts and other specialized software. Shopping carts allowed store owners to create realistic shopping experiences for their customers. If a person wanted to buy several items, the software would add the price of each item to the total automatically. Then, the cart software would instruct the users to check out, and they would be charged for the purchased products or services.

The evolution of shopping cart software improved user experience significantly, allowing e-commerce store owners to manage many other aspects of the sales procedure, adding surveys, offering refunds, etc.