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The History of the Ecommerce Business and Its Future: Shopping Online Before and After

11 min read

Ecommerce was introduced to the world 40 years ago (can you believe it?) and has been rapidly developing into what we understand to be ecommerce as it is today. Online shopping has become the norm for many people and some even prefer it to traditional brick and mortar. Modern-day ecommerce has opened many doors for entrepreneurs because now it is easier than ever to open an online store and have an ecommerce business. Ecommerce has continued to hit a record high in revenue totals year after year, the future of ecommerce is bright and ever-changing. Here is a look at where ecommerce has been and where it may go.

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History of Ecommerce

Online Shopping’s Earliest High Notes:

1969 — CompuServe is founded as an immediate front runner in creating online services such as electronic mail and online live chat services. CompuServe was later acquired by AOL in 1998.

1979 — Michael Aldrich invents online shopping. This is ecommerce in its earliest form. He creates a system that processes transactions between consumers and businesses or from business to business. He modifies a television and connects it to a transaction processing computer using a telephone line. This process, however, was not fully realized until the introduction of the internet in the 90s when people could take advantage of online sales.

1982 — Boston Computer Exchange launches the first ecommerce business and sells used computers online.

1989 — Tim Berners-Lee invents the first web server and by the end of 1990. The web server was up and running at CERN, Berners-Lee employer at the time. He started working with other computer scientists at the time to help develop the server that would become the worldwide web.

The early 90s and introduction of the Internet

1993 — The source code for the first web browser, invented by Berners-Lee, is released to the public. This grants public access to the world wide web for the first time.

1995 — The National Science Foundation lifts its restriction on commercial use of the NET. This gives users the rights needed to start an online business and allow online shopping to take shape, leading to the launch of many well-known ecommerce platforms that are still thriving today.

1995 — eBay, one of the first and popular ecommerce sites for people to sell products is introduced. Also, Jeff Bezos launches a little online bookstore now known as Amazon. By the end of 1996, he sees $15.7 million in revenue.

1998 — PayPal creates a payment processing system for ecommerce and is now one of the largest most trusted online payment platforms in the ecommerce industry.

The early 2000s and the dawn of ecommerce

2000 — Google introduces Google AdWords giving a “one-stop-shop” to both online and brick-and-mortar businesses looking for easy online advertising solutions.

2005 — Etsy launches and is now one of the most popular third-party online marketplace platforms for anyone to easily start selling online.

2006 — Shopify launches its storefront software that was created out of frustration with past storefront systems that were too complicated and expensive. Shopify helped bring simple software for small business owners to start an ecommerce business.

2009 — Ecwid introduces a revolutionary way to start an ecommerce business. Ecwid started out as a few lines of code that you could include in your website to create an online store. It was a new hands-off approach that allowed online businesses to create a storefront without constant monitoring by the ecommerce platform.

The modern-day online store

2011 — Facebook launches sponsored stories as a form of early advertising.

2014 — Apple brings Apple Pay to their iPhone. Apple Pay is by far one of the most popular mobile payment systems in use today. The introduction of the wallet and Apple Pay has made it even easier for consumers to purchase items by using their iPhones.

2016 — Instagram starts testing their shoppable features in the app. Instagram’s parent company Facebook also introduced Facebook Marketplace and added a payment function into the Messenger app.

2017 — The Ecommerce market rises to new heights. Cyber Monday sales hit a new record by exceeding $6.5 billion in revenue from online sales, 17% increase from 2016.

2020 — Ecommerce grows exponentially due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Lockdowns force brick and mortar stores to adapt to the digital world and provide more goods and services online.

Future of Ecommerce

Ecommerce has come a long way since Aldrich’s processing machine, but this is likely just the beginning of a brave new world of global commerce and connection. Almost all brick-and-mortar stores need some existing online store or they may struggle to stay open. This reality was exacerbated during the pandemic.

Today ecommerce is being adopted around the world at a rapid pace, many ecommerce processes are becoming automatic, and artificial intelligence is starting to have an impact on ecommerce stores. Setting up an online storefront is already pretty intuitive with the technology and platforms we have right now, but the future of ecommerce will bring new technology that will make having an online business even easier.

Growth of online sales

Ecommerce has continued to break records every year in revenue. Online retail sales continue to rise, and it doesn’t seem that they are going to slow down anytime soon. It is estimated that in 2027 that ecommerce will see $1.7 trillion in revenue just in the United States.

In addition to the U.S. market, global ecommerce is accelerating as well. Many other countries are starting to adopt online shopping.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

Online retailers implementing AI technology will benefit from having personalized targeted marketing, increased customer retention, automated processes, and much more. AI is rapidly advancing and those implementing it into their ecommerce platforms are reaping the benefits.

AI allows companies to make their customers’ online shopping experience more personalized. AI creates a digital footprint for each customer and with this footprint ecommerce platforms can run retargeted marketing campaigns. With AI online stores can recommend products as customers shop, it will notice if a customer looks at a certain item for a long time and can send them a notification later on if that particular item goes on sale. This allows ecommerce stores to achieve a higher conversion rate.

AI-driven chatbots are advancing rapidly. Ecommerce businesses can place AI chatbots in their online stores. These are completely automated, saving the business thousands of dollars and creating a more personal experience for their customer. As AI advances these chatbots have become more and more conversational, almost to the point that an online shopper may not even know they are not talking to an actual person.

Mobile shopping

The younger generations rely heavily on their mobile devices for everything so naturally mobile sales are steadily increasing. To sell products online in the future focusing on mobile sales is a must. Online shoppers are using mobile devices to do product research, this is increasing through the use of social media. In-app purchases on Instagram and Facebook have taken off and are changing the way people shop online. As a result, every ecommerce platform in the online market is becoming more mobile-friendly to help increase online purchases.

Voice commerce

With the adoption of many smart devices such as Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa comes an opportunity for ecommerce businesses. There have been advancements made in smart home technology where people can make online transactions through the use of their voice. In the future, someone could make a purchase by simply saying “Hey Google, put cat litter in my shopping cart.”

Voice SEO will be the new way to grow your ecommerce business. With more people utilizing voice commerce, those selling online will need to predict the natural language people will use with their smart home devices.


When analyzing the history of ecommerce you can see that commerce trends have changed considerably. After the introduction of the world wide web physical stores have had to adapt to the many evolving ecommerce marketplaces over the history of ecommerce. The ever-evolving trends create opportunities for new ecommerce jobs and the ability to take advantage of new technology. Knowing the history of ecommerce can help you predict future trends and understand all the various ecommerce marketplaces.

If you have an ecommerce business or are considering opening an ecommerce store, understanding where ecommerce is likely going will increase your chances of success. While it is important to stay ahead of the trends to take full advantage, make sure you have the basics down before you integrate new technologies. Make sure you have an ecommerce platform that can create an ecommerce store that will work for you today and is continually future-proofing itself so it will work for you tomorrow.


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About the author

Max has been working in the ecommerce industry for the last six years helping brands to establish and level-up content marketing and SEO. Despite that, he has experience with entrepreneurship. He is a fiction writer in his free time.

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