John Wainwright is a computer scientist and pioneer in the field of computer languages, but that’s not why he’s famous. On April 3, 1995, Wainwright ordered the book “Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought” from a fledgling online bookseller. The book arrived with a packing slip that read “Thanks for shopping at!” Unbeknownst to Wainwright, he was the first non-employee customer of what would soon become the largest e-commerce company in the world. 

E-commerce, short for electronic commerce, has grown and changed significantly since online retailers began opening their doors in the early 1990s. Back then, online shopping wasn’t a part of everyday life; it was as new and unfamiliar as email, instant messaging, and MP3 files. Let’s look back at the evolution of e-commerce and how it continues to shape our society.

The 1990s: Birth of the Web

The origins of e-commerce can be traced back to the 1948-49 Berlin Blockade, which saw West Germany ordering supplies using a system of electronic typewriters called telex. However, it wasn’t until the early 1970s that we began seeing innovations that would become staples of modern e-commerce, such as electronic funds transfer (EFT). At the time, e-commerce was little more than a convenient way to exchange documents within a company.

Everything changed with the introduction of the World Wide Web in 1991 and the web browser Mosaic, the precursor to Internet Explorer, two years later. These advancements provided the means for the public to search for and purchase products online. E-commerce transitioned to the internet soon after, and it wasn’t long before two of the world’s largest online retailers came on the scene: Amazon and eBay.

The Dot-Com Bubble

E-commerce exploded as internet service providers like AOL connected tens of millions of homes to the web. Excitement reached a fever pitch between 1998 and 2000 as investors poured money into internet startups. This era is known as the dot-com bubble, a period marked by many promising but ultimately unprofitable online companies. Notoriously, online fashion retailer burned through $185 million in 18 months before going bankrupt. The bubble burst in 2000 but left behind a robust digital infrastructure that paved the way for modern e-commerce.

E-Commerce As We Know It Today

E-commerce sales worldwide amounted to over $4.9 trillion in 2021. By 2025, sales are expected to exceed $7 trillion. (Worldwide sales were a little over $1 trillion in the not-so-distant-past of 2014.) This explosive growth has been fueled by increased access to high-speed internet and the spread of smartphones, which are owned by over 5 billion people globally. Online shoppers, once at the mercy of dial-up connections, can now shop anywhere. They can roll over in the middle of the night, fumble for their phone in the dark, and place an order with a single click.

E-commerce is now a part of everyday life.

Amazon, Walmart, and eBay remain the largest e-commerce companies, but the way they conduct business is far more refined than it was in the early days of e-commerce. Websites are clean and responsive. Search engines make finding deals easy and even make recommendations based on a person’s search history. And customizable orders give buyers more options and more control over their online shopping experience than ever before.

Finding New Ways to Reach Buyers

This evolving ecosystem also offers new ways for companies to reach customers. Email, text message, social media, and influencer marketing campaigns are all normal facets of online retail marketing. Buyers are encouraged to leave reviews, opt into mailing lists, join loyalty programs, and post on social media, all to build an emotional connection between them and a brand. In this new ecosystem, there’s no right way but many possible ways to reach buyers, and they must all be accounted for if businesses are to thrive in this competitive environment.

Expand Your Knowledge of Digital Marketing

The evolution of e-commerce has led to an ecosystem where anyone can open an online shop and compete with leading retailers. Etsy is famous for its marketplace of one-of-a-kind items made by fledgling entrepreneurs. However, this diverse landscape of leading retailers and independent sellers means that any marketing strategy must be louder, bolder, and smarter to make an impact.

Earn an Online Undergraduate Certificate in Digital Marketing

UT Permian Basin’s College of Business offers an online undergraduate certificate in digital marketing. Accredited by the prestigious Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International), our online undergraduate certificate in digital marketing program will provide you with the foundational knowledge you need to develop and implement brand, marketing, and social media campaigns.

In addition to exploring the many facets of e-commerce, our program looks at:

  • Digital Branding
  • E-Marketing
  • Digital Advertising
  • Digital Marketing Analytics
  • Social Media Marketing

This 12-credit certificate program can be completed in tandem with any of our undergraduate bachelor’s degree programs, such as our Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing. Attend UT Permian Basin online, and you’ll be able to enter the world of marketing with both a bachelor’s degree and an undergraduate certificate on your resume.

Become a marketer. Apply to our online undergraduate certificate in digital marketing and learn how the biggest names in e-commerce are using marketing to reach new generations of customers.