“E-commerce” is known as “electronic commerce, ” which means trading services and goods on the Internet. It is your active city center or brick and mortar shop translated into zeroes and ones on the internet superhighway. A valued 2.14 billion people worldwide buy goods and services online, and the number of Prime members shopping in Amazon stores globally now tops 200 million.
E-commerce is one way people buy and sell things in retail. Some companies sell products online only, while other sellers use e-commerce as a part of a broader strategy that includes physical stores and other distribution channels. Either way, e-commerce allows startups, small businesses, and large companies to sell products at scale and reach customers across the world.
About one-fifth of all retail purchases are made online, which amounts to more than $1 trillion in online retail sales. By 2026, that number is forecast to grow to about 25 percent. For some perspective, consider that in 2004, e-commerce sales only made up two percent of purchases in the United States.
History of E-Commerce
On August 11, 1994, Brandenberger of Philadelphia made the first-ever credit card purchase using encryption over the internet, ushering in the modern e-commerce era. The purchase? Sting’s 1993 CD Ten Summoner’s Tales, of course. The seemingly mundane $12.48 purchase set off what would eventually become one of the most transformative industries in the world.
By the turn of the century, notable e-commerce giants had emerged, including Amazon, which started as a bookseller. Still, today accounts for 40 percent of the entire e-commerce market, and eBay is a marketplace platform that facilitates peer-to-peer selling of goods, such as electronics, art, and clothing.
By the early 2010s, it became clear that social platforms like Facebook and Instagram were the most efficient places for e-commerce brands to advertise their products. These platforms armed retailers with actionable data that allowed them to fine-tune their messaging and convert impressions into sales. Upstart brands took advantage of this landscape and used social media platforms to acquire customers cheaply and efficiently. This helped pave the way for the popularity of so-called direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands.
Types of E-Commerce
The e-commerce industry is made of smaller subcategories that are determined by the goods and products that each digital store sells. Some e-commerce sites sell directly to consumers. Others sell to other businesses. Some sell physical products, and others just sell digital services. Below are a few of the primary popular forms of e-commerce:
Business to Consumer (B2C)
The most common type of e-commerce is business-to-consumer. This is when retailers sell their products or services to shoppers through their own websites or an online platform.
Business to Business (B2B)
In B2B e-commerce, businesses sell goods or services to other businesses online.
Consumer to Consumer (C2C)
In C2C e-commerce, consumers sell products or services to other consumers through an online platform, such as eBay, Craigslist, Etsy, or Poshmark.
Consumer to Business (C2B)
Consumer-to-business e-commerce is a model in which consumers create or provide value to businesses. Some examples include a photographer licensing their work, a freelancer offering contract work via a gig platform, or a tech device blogger including affiliate links in their articles.
Benefits of E-Commerce
E-commerce offers benefits to both buyers and sellers that physical retail stores simply can’t.
Convenience for Consumers
E-commerce provides shoppers with an unrivaled level of convenience. People can buy just about anything they need without getting out of bed — day or night — and it takes just a limited mouse clicks or screen taps and a couple of shipping days (sometimes even fewer) for your purchase to arrive at your doorstep.
The sheer ease and convenience of online shopping is no better exemplified than in Cyber Monday, a day dedicated to lower-than-normal deals on the best products the internet has to offer. Many of these purchases are made via mobile devices, too, solidifying e-commerce’s spot as the most convenient and easy way to shop.
Wider Selection for Consumers
With e-commerce, shoppers also have access to thousands of crowd-sourced reviews to help verify a product’s quality. They can quickly and easily conduct research and compare products and find the best available price, rather than simply sticking with whatever the local retail store has on its shelves.
Lower Costs for Businesses
Millions of entrepreneurs can set up their online shops with lower overhead costs than traditional brick-and-mortar stores. There is no need to staff physical store locations, for example.
Wider Reach for Businesses
With the power of the Internet, retail stores can now reach customers all over the globe. Before the advent of e-commerce, small businesses could only operate in their immediate geographical areas with smaller customer bases. Today, there are many this kind of platforms that allow the “little guys” to compete with the big box stores on a global scale.
Personalization for Both Consumers and Businesses
E-commerce personalizes the entire shopping experience. This has benefits for both shoppers and merchants alike. On the seller side, it allows you to programmatically display specific advertisements and products that directly appeal to an individual customer. Using data on what sellers have viewed or put into their online carts, sellers can then gently remind buyers to purchase their recently viewed items. This type of information has streamlined the selling process and has enabled online retailers to grow their profits.
Ecommerce is a rapidly growing industry that offers many advantages over traditional brick-and-mortar retail. If you are thinking about starting an e-commerce business, there are many resources available to help you get started. The future of e-commerce is bright, and there are many opportunities for businesses that are able to adapt to the changing landscape.