The History of Online Shopping

Trends 13 minute read 9th February 2023

The sheer number of discarded Amazon boxes at recycling centers is no optical illusion.

By 2040, it’s estimated that 95% of all purchases will be made online.

Statisticians can speak confidently about this because the trend in e-commerce growth has been evident since 2014. According to research, by 2023, e-commerce sales worldwide will approach $6.3 trillion. This continues a rise that has been steady and consistent for the last few years.

But where did it all start? How did we reach the point where ordering everything from a set of cutlery to a family car could be undertaken from one’s hand instead of at a shopping mall?

What Is E-commerce?

E-commerce, aka ecommerce (originally electronic commerce), means selling and buying goods or services over the internet.

Ecommerce sales take place on websites, apps, and social media. Sales rely on integrated payment gateways to securely complete transactions between buyers and sellers. Payments in the online marketplace could be with a credit card or direct deposit through bank accounts and virtual accounts.

E-commerce is sector agnostic and successfully implemented in business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) industries. This is primarily thanks to the ease with which online stores are designed, configured, and administered. Many businesses can be up and running quickly without coders’ or designers’ assistance.

What Does E-commerce Look Like Across the Globe?

To truly understand how far we’ve come with e-commerce, look at the global market share by country.

Here are the top 10 largest e-commerce markets worldwide:

  1. China: $2.78 trillion
  2. USA: $843 billion
  3. United Kingdom: $169 billion
  4. Japan: $144 billion
  5. South Korea: $120 billion
  6. Germany: $101.5 billion
  7. France: $80 billion
  8. India: $67.5 billion
  9. Canada: $44 billion
  10. Spain: $37 billion


Find the most lucrative e-commerce markets in fashion, books, travel, and beauty. But as anyone who has scoured Amazon knows, you can buy pretty much anything online.

The Complete History of Online Shopping

Are you wondering, “when did online shopping start” and “when was online shopping invented?” Let’s look at where e-commerce started and how it transitioned into the monolith we know and (more often than not) love today.

Unlike the brief history of WiFi, it’s hard to believe that online shopping history is over 40 years old. It has developed considerably since the early days, but e-commerce has been around longer than you think.

Let’s go over the biggest milestones of how the world wide web impacted physical store shopping. Generating the online retail industry through B2B and B2C online sales.

history of online shopping

1969: CompuServe Founded

Online shopping wouldn’t be possible without computing power. CompuServe is the first company to realize the apparent connection between bytes and commerce for business customers.

1979: Michael Aldrich Invents Online Shopping

The English inventor Michael Aldrich combined a modified TV, a transaction-processing computer, and a telephone line to create the earliest known version of electronic shopping.

1982: Launch of Boston Computer Exchange

When the Boston Computer Exchange hit the market in 1982, it was the world’s first e-commerce business. Its primary focus was helping people sell used computers.

1992: First Online Book Marketplace Launched

Believe it or not, Amazon wasn’t the first company to discover the market for online book sales on the world wide web. In 1992, the online store Book Stacks Unlimited beat them to it. No, we hadn’t heard of them, either.

1994: Netscape Navigator Gains Mass Popularity

It’s hard to imagine a time without web browsers, but in 1994, Netscape Navigator was the first to become famous on the Windows operating system.

1995: eBay and Amazon Both Launch

Call it fate or a simple coincidence, but 1995 was the year two start-ups entered the world of e-commerce and plotted a course for world domination. Retail ecommerce sales would never be the same without eBay or Amazon.

1998: PayPal Enters the Online Marketplace

Now owned by eBay, PayPal first appeared at the end of the twentieth century. Back then, it was nothing more than an online money transfer platform.

1999: Alibaba Launches

Still widely used today, Alibaba launched in 1999, backed by $25 million in funding and a desire to be the go-to online marketplace.

2000: Google Introduces AdWords

Google makes most of its colossal earnings from advertising revenue, which comes from what is now known simply as ‘Ads.’ In 2000, it pretty much invented pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.

2005: Amazon Prime Launches

It’s hard to believe Amazon Prime is 18 years old. When it launched in 2005, it was nothing more than a membership system that provided free two-day shipping. Now, it’s an ecommerce business that includes TV, music, book rental, digital products, and same-day delivery services.

2005: The Rise of Community With Etsy

When Etsy launched in 2005, it gave smaller sellers and crafters a platform to sell their goods. This was one of the earliest forms of community e-commerce. It allowed consumers to find handmade goods and shop online through this direct ecommerce platform.

2009: Square Enters the Market

Payment processing has always sat at the heart of e-commerce. Square’s launch in 2009 made it easier for retailers to accept card payments on- and offline (a first at the time).

2011: Google Wallet Arrives

Google was the first to offer a peer-to-peer payment service that could be used from smartphones. It worked by linking a ‘digital wallet’ to a debit card or bank account and is known today as Google Pay.

2011: Facebook Launches Sponsored Stories

FB’s sponsored stories were the earliest form of social media advertising. It enabled businesses to advertise to targeted audiences via sponsored posts. It was the first glimpse at how powerful Facebook’s data haul could be for retailers.

2014: Hello, Apple Pay

With online shoppers increasingly using smartphones for online purchases, Apple picked 2014 as the time to jump on the mobile payment platform bandwagon. Now, it’s on virtually every Apple device, including the Apple Watch.

2016: Facebook Chatbots Emerge

In 2016, an early version of Facebook’s chatbot technology made its way into the Marriott and Starwood hotel chain brands to aid the guest inquiry and rewards accounts processes.

2017: Instagram Partners With BigCommerce

This partnership enabled Instagram business accounts to advertise their products with direct links to buy. Enabling users to click immediately into the purchase process on mobile devices. This was a big step forward for mobile commerce and online sales.

Multi-channel Selling Gains Prominence

A 2018 Omnichannel Buying Report noted that 87% of US consumers still shop offline. Revealing the importance of multi-channel selling and ‘omnichannel’ shoppers within the online shopping experience.

Facebook Launches Facebook Shops

In May 2020, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg revealed Facebook Shops. A new e-commerce platform that enables businesses to sell products directly on Facebook and Instagram, thus bypassing any third parties.

Where Do E-commerce Sales Go Next?

If we fast-forward to June 2020, rocketing demand for online shopping (partly due to the COVID-19 outbreak) results in Amazon boss Jeff Bezos adding another $31 billion to his fortune.

While this might be a momentary spike, the growth trend for online shopping shows no signs of slowing. Expect the average revenue per user (ARPU) amount to hit $4.04K. Big business is to be had through ecommerce platforms.

We’re now entering an era of hyper-personalization, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and increasingly human-like chatbots. Ethical concerns abound due to the amount of private information being shared through retail transactions online. From here, we should expect e-commerce to get continually smarter, safer, and capable of disrupting markets yet to realize their full potential.

As most businesses move to online marketplaces, it creates questions about the future of physical stores. What do retail stores offer shoppers compared to online retailers selling online? Can conventional retailers offer a particular product that cannot be replicated through an internet shopping network?

Business transactions can easily take place through the internet after completing an online search through a search engine. Hybrid business models are becoming commonplace for many retailers to cater to all user needs and expectations when it comes to their preferred shopping experience.

Do you own brick-and-mortar stores? Are you ready to take the next step in your e-commerce journey? Take the next step with Beambox to gain customer insights and reviews to boost your small business’s online reputation.

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Read this next: What is footfall (and why does it matter in retail and hospitality)?

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