A Brief History of e-Commerce

Most of us think of e-commerce as the relatively new process of adding a product to a shopping cart and buying something online. But the truth is e-commerce has been around for decades, long before Amazon and eBay, long before shopping carts, even long before the Internet as we know it existed.

When was the first e-commerce transaction?

The first known e-commerce transaction took place all the way back in 1971. Students using Arpanet accounts at Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory engaged in a commercial transaction with their counterparts at Massachusetts Institute of Technology to quietly arrange the sale of an undetermined amount of marijuana.

When was the first online store created?

In 1984, Gateshead/SIS Tesco launched the first B2C online store. The Gateshead system, which was accessed using the early 1980’s “Teleputer” models, had an online shopping basket and connected to the user’s television. The world’s first recorded online home shopper was Mrs. Jane Snowball, 72, of Gateshead, England in May of 1984. She was purchasing groceries from Tesco. Later that year, CompuServe launched their own Electronic Mall for USA and Canada customers, resulting in the State of California enacting the first Electronic Commerce Act to define the basic consumer rights online.

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When did modern browsers and online credit card transactions come into play?

The first browser, called Worldwide Web, was created in 1990 by Tim Berners-Lee. The invention of the browser led to the first “modern” online store in 1992 when Cleveland-based Book Stacks Unlimited opened a commercial website (www.books.com) selling books online with credit card processing. The website operated until 1996 when Book Stacks Unlimited was acquired by Barnes & Noble, and the books.com domain still redirects to Barnes & Noble today.

How did consumer demand for e-commerce change the web?

Consumer demand for e-commerce grew steadily, resulting in the need for a secure mechanism of handling transactions. In 1994, Netscape created the first web browser with built-in SSL support, allowing credit card and other sensitive data to finally be transmitted securely. This paved the way for the US National Science Foundation to lift its formerly strict prohibition of commercial enterprise on the Internet in 1995. That same year, Jeff Bezos founded Amazon.com and Pierre Omidyar founded AuctionWeb (now known as eBay).

We’ve come a long way since ARPANET and the early days of the Internet. Today, worldwide e-commerce sales top $1 Trillion annually, and that’s expected to continue to rise every year. If you haven’t created your own e-commerce site yet, now is a great time to start thinking about it!

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The Different Types of E-commerce:

1. Business to Business (B2B)

B2B or business to business e-commerce involves carrying out transactions over the internet between companies. For instance, an automobile company that needs 40,000 lug nuts can order these via the website of a vendor.

2. Business to Consumer (B2C)

B2C is the most common form of e-commerce and involves online transactions where retailers and service providers sell goods to consumers, and customers make their purchases directly from the company.

3. Consumer to Business (C2B)

A consumer to business e-commerce transaction involves individuals acquiring bids from competing companies. For example, a site which allows the customer to fill out a single form and receive bids on everything from loans, insurance, home repair, and more is a C2B transaction.

4. Consumer to Consumer (C2C)

C2C involves an evolution of the traditional model of trade. Sites like eBay and Craigslist often fall into the C2C category, as they facilitate a connection between two consumers who wish to exchange goods.

There’s value in understanding the business models of the different e-commerce players. If you’re just getting into e-commerce, you’re better equipped to identify your target audience and how to best market to them by properly classifying your own e-commerce business.

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Online E-commerce Advice

The ability to operate an online storefront has allowed many businesses to expand their customer base and has opened the door for many startups to launch their business with significantly reduced startup capital. With this surge in the online marketplace, it is important that business owners learn the basics of e-commerce. Below is some online business advice that you can use to set your e-commerce site up for success.

Optimize Your Site and Content

From the get-go, the layout and design of your site should be SEO optimized. Do your homework before hiring web and graphic designers to ensure that your site is built with SEO friendly strategies. Once you have a website design that promotes optimization, your next focus will be to create quality content. This begins with your pages and tabs and spills over into your articles and blog posts. If writing is not your strong point or the importance of keyword content is difficult for you to understand, then you can contract out a content writer.

Add an Explainer Video

One of the downfalls to shopping online is that your customers are not able to touch and see your products or get a feel for who you are as a brand. Even if what you are selling is a service and not a product, you will see drastically improved results if you add an explainer video to your website. An explainer video will showcase your product, demonstrate what it can do, and will make you feel real and relatable. As an added benefit your videos will give new visitors a clear place to go to learn more information. They can be shared via social media, and websites and landing pages with explainer videos receive more traffic and have higher conversion rates.

Take Quality Photos

Another important piece of online business advice for all companies that sell products is to post high-quality photos. This can be done by ensuring that all photos are high resolution, they should have the ability to zoom in and out, and the product should be shot from multiple angles. If your product is available in multiple colors, try to offer at least one photo of each available color. If it is too cumbersome to photograph each available color, then add boxes with color swatches of all available colors.

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Offer a Chat Feature or Toll-Free Number

When a visitor to your site has a question about your payment processing, required fields for placing their order, or any product or service questions, they need to have a fast and convenient way to get in touch with you. If your staff is large enough, consider adding an instant messaging feature or providing a toll-free number in which your customers can easily reach a live person. Even if these features are only available during business hours, you will increase your conversion rate. If IM or a 24-hour phone number is not a feasible option, make sure that your response time to voicemails and emails is less than one business day.

Offer Credit Card Free Payment Options

Even if you have encrypted checkout available to your shoppers, some shoppers prefer to pay only with credit card free payment options. It is easy to set up credit card free payment options such as PayPal or Checkout by Amazon. With credit card free payment processing, your shoppers need not worry about entering their credit card number when purchasing from you, but they will have the security of knowing that they have buyer protection for any unauthorized transactions or any products and services they are displeased with.

By following the above online business advice, you will create an attractive, user-friendly, and secure website. These ecommerce basics are simple to implement but will have a great impact on your growth and success. If this is your first online business, reach out to local online marketing experts to learn more tips, tricks, and advice that will help you set your website up for success.

Joslyn Fresay is the researcher of paper writing service EasyWayPaper and e-commerce strategist, who’s developed the web and consumer engagement strategies for some of American brands. As a former web and database developer, Joslyn combined her technical expertise and sales abilities with a straight-forward approach to business to help companies define their digital strategy, improve their customer retention, and increase their online revenue.

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