I ran across an interesting article on the BBC “Worklife” page titled: “The curious origins of online shopping.”
If you were an early adapter, you might remember the thrill of upgrading from a 14.4K modem to 28.8K. Was that speed even possible back then? Soon, a mind-blowing 56K would be available and that was pure, straight-up science fiction at that point.
Right then, the first group of large-scale online services began to take shape. These were almost entirely social-based experiments. Prodigy, AOL, Compuserve, these were attempting to figure out not only the “how” but the “why.” What did they provide besides a way to chat and email and lookup phone numbers? One company, Amazon, had the foresight to begin the very first models of e-commerce. The market matured and slowly, this weird concept of buying products via computer started to put down some roots.
Online bookstore and IPO
After reading a report about the future of the Internet that projected annual web commerce growth at 2,300%, Bezos created a list of 20 products that could be marketed online. He narrowed the list to what he felt were the five most promising products, which included: compact discs, computer hardware, computer software, videos, and books. Bezos finally decided that his new business would sell books online, because of the large worldwide demand for literature, the low unit price for books, and the huge number of titles available in print. Amazon was founded in the garage of Bezos’ rented home in Bellevue, Washington. Bezos’ parents invested almost $250,000 in the start-up.
The Porn Paradigm
I firmly believe that the impetus for users to go online was porn. It was the perfect match between content and delivery. It was prurient but discrete; enticing and easy. Likewise, Amazon chose a similarly (if not less carnal) product to marry to this new form distribution: books. They were easy to ship, they were easily identified and sorted digitally since they were already assigned an ISBN # and, perhaps most importantly, they did not need to be personally inspected like, say, a pair of pants.
It often takes a tectonic social shift to see if a trend becomes a more permanent feature of any large, diverse community. And we are at that moment right now. One could not create a more telling stress test for e-commerce than COVID-19. And the preliminary statistics show it:
Between March 2020 and April 2020 in the US, ecommerce sales jumped 49%, led by online grocery with a 110% boost in daily sales. Kahn says that ecommerce has finally reached the kind of high penetration (the kind that makes more sense relative to its age) because people have turned to the internet to buy food.
— Source: BBC
These numbers are astonishing in any environment. The rate of acceptance of previously brink-and-mortar-only retail drives an entirely new type of ecommerce. We are now shopping for survival, not for fun.
“A real inflection point for online shopping as we know it today could be traced to around 2017. By the end of the prior year, many Americans were “starting to shop online as often as [they] take out the trash”; according to the Pew Research Center, eight in 10 Americans used a computer or phone to buy something online that year – as opposed to the just 22% who did so in 2000.”
— Source: BBC