Coming from the compounding of the highly shortened form of the word electronics, e, and the word commerce, which comes from the Latin com, meaning ‘with, together’, and merx, meaning ‘merchandise’, today’s term, e-commerce, which is loosely defined as using electronic media for commercial activity, is all about using the Internet to make shopping easier. In other words, why waste your time driving/walking around in the cold and wet weather going to multiple stores to find multiple items, when you can do it all from the comfort of your smartphone or computer at home?
First used in a November 24, 1993 article in the San Jose Mercury News discussing how “To jump-start e-Commerce in our region”, this is another instance of the process itself likely being older than the terminology. Though the concept, as we would understand it, originated with an online bulletin board bookstore called Book Stacks Unlimited in 1992 (2 years before Amazon’s founding) and the first true e-commerce transaction, to include both ordering and payment online, happened on August 11, 1994 and was for a Sting CD between 2 friends, with the New York Times reporting the breaking news on the following days under the bold title Attention Shoppers: Internet Is Open: “At noon yesterday, Phil Brandenberger of Philadelphia went shopping for a compact audio disk, paid for it with his credit card and made history”, there is sufficient evidence that primordial systems had been used long before this. For example, online shopping itself was pioneered in the UK by Michael Aldrich who, in 1979, connected a modified television to a real-time multi-user transaction processing computer with a phone line; moreover, believe it or not, there are also reports that the first online transaction occurred in 1972, with Stanford students selling marijuana to MIT students via the Arpanet account at their artificial intelligence lab.
Considering the 2018 Cyber Monday sales in the U.S. reached USD 7.9 billion, an almost 18% increase from 2017, along with a 20% increase for Black Friday and a 30% increase for Thanksgiving itself, it’s humorously worth noting a usage of the word from the October 1998 issues of Wired, which mentions that: “Webmasters are being hammered on by their bosses to justify why so much money is being sunk into e-commerce.”
Still though, e-commerce is part of a dynamic consumer-driven marketplace. While brick-and-mortar stores have taken a hit from e-commerce, there also seems to be a hybrid emerging, BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick-up In Store), which grew over 60% (year over year) and attempts to combine the ease of shopping online with the in-person shopping experience. Furthermore, more small brick-and-mortar businesses are finally experimenting with e-commerce and offering specialized services like local item pick-up and delivery, thus constantly expanding, reshaping, and redefining e-commerce to better meet any consumer’s needs.