E-commerce as we know it today is a mere twenty years old, but in the last two decades internet retail has been in a state of perpetual revolution, driven by the constant fight for competitive advantage.
At first glance it might seem that very little has changed. It’s open to discussion, but the industry consensus suggests that the first secure online purchase took place in 1994 when a pioneering music fan bought the CD 10 by Sting via NetMarket. Amazon launched in the same year. That was in the US. Britain had to wait another year for the sale of a book from WH Smith’s online store on the largely-forgotten Compuserve platform.
After that things began to look very familiar. Amazingly eBay was up and running by 1995 and by the end of the decade, we had personalisation and at least some major retailers getting to grips with the realities and practicalities of multi-channel retail. And truth to tell, on a superficial level, today’s retail websites don’t look that different from their counterparts in the 1990s or early noughties.
But behind the scenes a huge amount has happened. Initially sceptical high street retailers morphed into multi-channel players offering seamless services. Since then we’ve seen the emergence of the omni-channel universe characterised by customers browsing in the high street, checking prices on a smart phone and ordering via a tablet from the bus or in front of the TV. And all too often, the final order is placed with another retailer. This is a truly challenging environment. Continue reading