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Class is in session: A quick history of ecommerce

By Lori Stafford-Thomas

Ecommerce is almost second nature to the tech savvy shoppers in the everyday consumer market today. Whether it's by phone, tablet or desktop, customers can find nearly everything they're looking for with just a few clicks. Shoppers today can find nearly anything they're looking for, but buyers often forget that more than 10 years ago, the online retail landscape was entirely different.

Listed below is a brief history of ecommerce and the path technology has taken to get where it is now:

The MiniTel (1982)
In the early 1980s, the French Government developed the MiniTel. The free service was designed so citizens could look up phone numbers, make reservations for restaurants and conduct a few limited purchases. While the idea was novel at the time, it was strictly available in France, the BBC reported(1). 

Hypertext markup language (1989)
In the late 1980s, the web was in its developmental stages but on its way to taking its first step. Tim Bemers-Lee created HTML, which essentially served as the backbone for the internet. 

Ecommerce is open for business (1991)
With the new decade came an entirely new potential for buying products and services online. The National Science Federation, the governing body that regulated what could be shared online at that point in time, lifted restrictions against the retail of commercial products and services on the web, thus creating an opportunity for ecommerce to begin its growth.   

By now, online transactions were made mainly between businesses. However, according to the PeSA Internet Conference's website, internet lore says the first true ecommerce purchase was made in 1994 in Santa Cruz, California. A pepperoni and mushroom pizza with extra cheese was ordered from Pizza Hut®. (2).

Products are now for sale (1994)
While the first online sale may have been a delicious dinner, the first documented sale was completed . Some lucky soul purchased a copy of Sting's, "Ten Summoner's Tales" CD online, presumably changing his or her life forever. (3).

Amazon and eBay emerge (1995)
Two of the largest and most recognizable online brands are also some of the original pioneers of the ecommerce space. Amazon's original platform focused solely on buying and selling books, but quickly expanded into the megastore that it is now. Meanwhile, eBay started as an auction-based website and has followed a similar business model for two decades of prosperous growth.

PayPal becomes first alternative payment (1998)
The online payment service launches in the late 1990s, enabling an easy-to-use means of transaction between online customers and digital merchants. Alternative payments are one of the fastest-growing means of transaction in ecommerce today. Citing a recent yStats survey, industry website PYMNTS said alternative payments will drive half of business-to-consumer ecommerce transactions by 2020.(4).

Payments Card Industry (2004)
By now, ecommerce has grown into a much more viable way to shop for products and services online. Because of this rapid growth, industry stakeholders developed the first version of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DDS). The end goal is to protect cardholders' information during online transactions.


1. BBC, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-18610692 (Jun. 27, 2012)
2. PeSA, http://www.internetconference.com.au/resources/what-is-e-commerce.html
3. Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Summoner's_Tales (August 11, 1994)
4. PYMNTS, http://www.pymnts.com/news/2014/alternative-payments-to-power-50-percent-of-worlds-ecom-sales-in-2020/#.VQxlGY7F-RM (May 27, 2014)

 

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