The Curiosity on the origins of online Shopping


How many times have you clicked on "pay" to buy something in the last few months? If the spike in online sales during Covid-19 is any indicator (or, perhaps, the list of merchants on your last credit card statement), that's probably a lot.

Food, books, beauty products, inflatable children's pools as the pandemic persists, we have relied on e-commerce to get things to our home, contactless and fast. These things range from essential to not-so-essential: In Canada in April, online shoppers stranded at home were collecting canned quail eggs, sitar strings, and children's trampolines.

From the buildup of panic and shopping, we already know that the stress of the pandemic can break our brains and transform our shopping habits. However, even though online shopping has been around for years, even decades, it has only recently become very popular. Amazon has existed since the mid-1990s, but even in 2010 in the United States, online shopping accounted for just over 6% of all retail sales.

And now? Internet sales as a percentage of total UK sales increased from 2.8% in November 2006 to 18.9% in February 2020, before rising again to 30% in April 2020 due to the pandemic. In May 2020, "off-store" retail sales in the United States increased by 30.8% compared to May 2019. Prior to Covid-19, relying on the Internet for shopping was not so ingrained in our daily lives. A couple of decades ago, online shopping was new, just as the internet still is. Most people only bought hard-to-find records or unknown action figures on eBay.

So how did we get to the point where online shopping became a way of life? And where will it take us in the post-pandemic future? Where do we start?

In 1984, in Gateshead, England, a 72-year-old grandmother named Jane Snowball sat in her chair and used her television remote to order margarine, cereal and eggs.

She used the "Videotex" system developed by British inventor Michael Aldrich, says Jonathan Reynolds, associate professor of retail marketing and vice president of the Saïd School of Business at Oxford University. Aldrich took his television and turned it into a computer terminal: he used Videotex technology to generate a shopping list on the television screen and his order was phoned at his local Tesco. Then the products were shipped to your door, as if by magic.

"It was originally designed as a social service [for the elderly and disadvantaged]," 

says Reynolds. "The system, which predates the public Internet, was based on the development of a closed computer network." Little did Aldrich or Snowball know that their ingenious technological experiment laid the foundation for an industry that is now worth 118 billion pounds (186 billion dollars) in the UK.

After this first grocery service, the next big breakthrough in the online shopping space is said to have come in 1994, when a computer genius named Daniel M Kohn, then 21, founded an online marketplace called NetMarket. Not only was it dubbed "a startup that equates to a shopping mall in cyberspace," it also marked the first digitally secure transaction. The first purchase? A Sting CD, retails for $ 12.48 (£ 10). Since then, the primitive Internet, with its screeching sounds of selection, has made its way into people's homes. And while virtually all large companies are online today, only a few initially engaged in an e-commerce strategy.
One of these was Pizza Hut. In 1994, the American chain began selling pizzas online through its "PizzaNet" portal, a flat, gray website that looks as old as you might expect, with fields only for a customer's address and phone number.

But 1994 was also a watershed year for online shopping: it's the same year that Amazon, which at the time mainly sold books, was launched. eBay followed in 1995. Rakuten, Japan's largest e-commerce site that has expanded into Western markets in recent years, was launched two years later. Alibaba of China, in 1999. These companies were paving the way for a transition to online shopping: a wide variety of offerings, consumer accessibility and innovative technology.

The globalization of the mid-1990s was also an important catalyst that "made e-commerce a viable and highly profitable sales channel," says Thomaï Serdari, adjunct professor at New York University's Stern School of Business. . The connected world has allowed manufacturing to increase rapidly and significantly, for products at many price levels. “Consumers were eager to find the best quality or most acceptable product at the prices they could afford. The internet has provided them with the tool to do extensive research before purchasing an item. It also provided them with information on how to evaluate the price / value ratio and, ultimately, on the means to buy. "

While early pioneers like Amazon and eBay, which dominate the industry today, provided the platform for online shopping, Serdari says it was indeed the change in consumer behavior that led to the take-off of online shopping. "In fact, it was consumers who adopted this type of market as a democratized way of consuming," he says. Earning steam

A real breakthrough in online shopping as we know it today dates back to 2017. At the end of the previous year, many Americans were "starting to shop online as often as they take out the trash"; According to the Pew Research Center, eight out of ten Americans used a computer or phone to buy something online that year, up from only 22% in 2000. More phones in the hands of consumers have helped make buying easier. 80% worldwide in 2017.

Now data from 2019 shows that e-commerce comprises 16% of US sales, which represents $ 601.75 billion (£ 489 billion) of spending. Shopify, a global ecommerce software giant, reported online sales worldwide topped $ 3.5 trillion (£ 2.8 trillion) in the same year. In the United States, these numbers in the first quarter of 2020 (before the pandemic) increased by more than 14% compared to the same period in 2019.