The Rise and Rise of Online Shopping

The Rise and Rise of Online Shopping

Buying and selling over the internet (also known as ecommerce) now represents a significant proportion of all retail transactions in the UK. In fact, the astonishing rise of prominent ecommerce sites such Amazon and eBay has made the UK the world’s number one ecommerce market – and this upward trend is only set to continue.

Online shopping has all the makings of a thoroughly 21st century phenomenon. As internet access has become commonplace in homes throughout the country, ecommerce is now, for many people, part of their everyday lives. Customers are now less anxious about the security of online shopping, as improvements in online safety measures and increasing awareness of online security mean that the market is open to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Internet shopping is now as integrated as shopping from a catalogue, ordering over the phone or – as supermarkets increasingly embrace ecommerce – stocking up on the week’s groceries.

The ecommerce boom is a relatively recent affair. However, it has its roots in systems that go as far back as the late 1970s. These early attempts at online shopping were primitive compared to the flashy, feature-packed websites of today. In essence, though, the aim was the same – to provide a means for customers to easily browse, select and purchase a product with minimum effort and maximum choice.

1979 – Videotex
Michael Aldrich, a British inventor and entrepreneur, pioneered the use of Videotex for ecommerce. Videotex was a modified television that allowed customers to transmit and receive data using a simple menu-driven system. The technology never really took off, but many of Aldrich’s principles remain at the heart of ecommerce today. Writing of Videotex’s use by businesses for customer interaction, Aldrich said: “Building better customer communications means improving services, which in turn means strengthening competitive position which gets more business”.

1981 – Thomson Holidays
Still in Britain, this holiday firm created the first business-to-business computer shopping network in the early 1980s. Although Thomson is now a prominent public ecommerce retailer, it would be a few years before they opened up online shopping to customers.

1984 – Tesco
The crown for the first business-to-customer transaction apparently goes to supermarket chain Tesco and an elderly woman from the north east of England who purchased her groceries from her local store using her television and remote control. The system was trialled as a means to provide elderly or disabled local residents with an easier way to purchase their groceries, and was not open to the general public.

1992 – Bulletin Board Online Shopping
Between the mid 1980s and early 1990s, developments in ecommerce slowed down somewhat. As graphical user interfaces became more sophisticated and user-friendly, however, businesses began to make tentative attempts at offering online shopping services. Terry Brownell was the first person to develop a completely graphical, icon-driven ecommerce system using online bulletin boards.

1995 – Amazon and eBay
The mid 1990s saw the internet begin to be accepted by the general public as a viable means of mass-communication. As the dotcom bubble began to inflate, companies that are now household names began to spring up. 1995 marks the debut of both Amazon and eBay (as AuctionWeb) and the birth of ecommerce as we know it today.

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