E-commerce: How We Buy And Sell

Jul 8, 2017 By Akila S.
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Let’s say you are looking to buy a new laptop. I bet the first you’ll do is go online to compare models, features and prices from hundreds of different options.

You may even buy it online - maybe from Amazon. Well it wasn’t like this a few years ago. To shop for electronics, people would head out to the nearest Best Buy or Frys to look at display models or seek out “geeks”, and then buy at the store.

These days online shopping has revolutionized the way we think of buying-- not just books and electronics, but even everyday items like toiletries, clothing and even fresh produce. How did this come to be? Let’s find out.

What Is E-commerce?

Originally, “electronic commerce” meant sending documents like purchase orders and invoices electronically. However, today it is much more. It includes the purchase of goods and services over the internet.

Amazon.com launched its online shopping site in 1995, and eBay followed later that year. These pioneers led the way for thousands of other online retailers. As shoppers discovered the convenience and security of online shopping, they reduced their visits to traditional “brick-and-mortar” stores.

All of a sudden buyers could shop from their desks. Seeing sales getting eaten away by online sellers, many stores added online catalogs and online shopping options.

Evolution Of Commerce

Originally, commerce began as a system of trading one item for another. Early humans traded animal skins or services like labor, for other goods and services.

Gradually, currency was introduced to eliminate difficulties like trading a part of a cow for a loaf of bread. Shells or beads gave way to precious metals like gold and silver as currency. Eventually coins were minted and assigned value. They could be counted rather than weighed, similar to the system we have now.

Initially trading was limited - between local merchants and small communities. Soon large corporations set up chain stores and department stores. They slashed prices because it required less overhead costs to sell online and they were able to provide variety to customers.

With the advent of internet in the 1990s, technology developed rapidly for safe transactions to take place over the web. It became convenient for customers to compare prices and features while avoiding long checkout lines, and sellers saved the costs of maintaining a store. From nothing in 1990, today e-commerce is about 8% of all US retail sales according to the US Census Bureau.

Many customers and retailers however worry that a shift to e-commerce could take away the buying experience of touching, smelling and trying products. As traditional retailers try to provide online shopping options to customers, e-tailers are trying to get closer to their customers - like the recent Amazon purchase of Whole Foods. It certainly shows that in-store shopping is not going away anytime soon.