A Brief History of Online Shopping

August 2, 2023
Posted in Blog
August 2, 2023 Mathieu Laliberte

 Short story: Online shopping is the future of shopping which is fast evolving in the present. But online shopping didn’t develop overnight. Certain breakthroughs led to its development; these are the historical frameworks that make online shopping the easiest form of shopping. Read to know more. 

Before we dissect the history of online shopping, it’s important to know that the present is only made possible by the past. To fully understand the potential of online shopping in the modern world, we have to go way back in time to the date it emerged and bloomed. What is online shopping anyway; how was it conceived and what led to its present popularity?

What is Online Shopping?

In simple words, online shopping is a unique form of electronic commerce (known as ecommerce) which connects customers and sellers on all corners of the internet with the use of a web browser. Today, it is not uncommon to come across online stores that present a range of products, along with specifications, features, photos and prices to prospective customers.

As a result there are two forms an online shop could take. First is as a B2C store which connects business-to-customers. Second is as a B2B online store which connects business-to-business. Either way, every human with access to the Worldwide Web has engaged in online shopping. 

History of Online Shopping

  • Electronic shopping was invented by an English inventor called Michael Aldrich. In 1979, he invented the earliest form of e-commerce which allowed online transaction processing between business and customers, as well as between business and business. 
  • The invention of the first ever web browser, i.e. the World Wide Web in 1990 is the second major proponent of online shopping. Without an interconnected internet, there would be no online marketplace at all. We owe this marvellous invention called the ‘WWW’ to Tim Berners Lee. That man is the major reason why millions of people have access to the internet which hosts numerous e-commerce platforms.
  • After the establishment of these two very important platforms, the expansion of online shopping was only imminent. In 1994, Netscape developed an encryption-based internet security protocol called SSL – or Secure Sockets Layer. Just ask any ecommerce owner how important an SSL certificate is for business. 
  • Okay, we’ll break it down here. You see, an SSL makes it difficult or impossible for the exchange of information on the internet to be intercepted. When buying something online, you are required to send sensitive details directly to the online shop. This means that you’re sending private information like credit card details routers to servers. SSL ensures your data isn’t stored by any crooked servers on transmission.
  • Because of its security, SSL is always required for basically all financial transactions online.
  • 1995 welcomed the biggest transformation of online shopping. The first online marketplaces were established. First came Amazon.com, arguably the biggest online marketplace launched by Jeff Bezos—yup, the richest man in the world as of 2019 with an estimated net worth of $115 billion.
  • Can’t be a monopoly, so eBay.com joined the party. At the time eBay was called AuctionWeb—good thing they changed the name.
  • All these online marketplaces with no reliable payment gateway. It is 1998, PayPal gets a full swing at the online payment system niche; quickly becomes a success.
  • Once a dream, online shopping was now taking shape. Jack Ma, a failure in many things launched a very prominent Chinese marketplace in 1999 called Alibaba.com. You know the one.
  • At the turn of the 21st century in 2000, Google launched Adwords, an advertising service that allows sellers to place adverts in Google search results related to viewers’ search preference. In other words, Google connected sellers to buyers on a greater scale.
  • Another subtle yet huge idea changed the world of online shopping forever. In 2004, Shopify, a prominent online storefront service made it possible for low-capital sellers to set up online stores. Shopify is to online stores as WordPress is to websites.
  • In 2006, PayPal launched a new way for people to exchange money and buy things they want online directly from their cell phones.
  • As of 2020, it’s clear to see that the entire internet is now a virtual shopping mall. With people choosing to carry out trades on Instagram, Whatsapp and Facebook, it’s safe to say that we are in the online shopping era. 

Future of Online Shopping

All well and good but exactly how far can online shopping go? Will it replace the traditional way of shopping at malls? Yes it can. In fact, online shopping has all the precepts to become ‘shopping’ itself. 

While in-store retail still enjoys some patronisation, there has been a general shift to ecommerce and all with good reason. The future of ecommerce is now upon us. Eventually, online shopping will replace in-store retail for certain products. In time, shopping will mean ‘online’.

First, credit is due to technological changes that continue to push the online shopping agenda. These technological inventions are blockchain, cryptocurrency, voice search, augmented reality and virtual reality.

  1. Blockchain – Many statistics point to the potential of blockchain simplifying the way payments, transactions and records are handled. Blockchain is the future. Decentralisation, immutability, and transparency are key elements of blockchain; everything online shopping needs to succeed.
  2. Cryptocurrency – A cryptocurrency is a digital currency that is created and managed through the use of advanced encryption techniques known as cryptography. Cryptocurrency operates on blockchain technology. For online shopping to be the only marketplace in the world, there should be a common global currency, not competing national currencies.
  3. Voice Search – An extension of AI, voice search automates tasks. Software and devices like Alexa, Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri now makes it easier to participate in ecommerce trade. Never do you have to type the products you need into a search engine. By using voice search, you can get easy access to products on the internet with minimal stress.
  4. Augmented Reality – The biggest problem online shopping faces till today is the distance it puts between the customer and product. Customers are reluctant to buy an item that they cannot experience first-hand. Being a computer enhanced view of the physical world, augmented reality (AR) allows customers to test and explore products online in ways similar to real life experience.
  5. Virtual Reality – Siblings with AR, virtual reality (VR) could also improve online shopping. Because VR is a simulated experience of the real word, similar or different, it allows for the following online shopping possibilities:
  • The creation of assessable virtual showrooms or virtual stores
  • Customers will be able to virtually visualise products.
  • VR can keep the customers coming back.


If you own a physical store somewhere on earth or outer space, it’s about time you considered a transition to online trade. We aren’t very far from a global online shopping space. No longer will people have to queue up in stores to buy a product that may not be in stock. People can now make quality purchases from their comfort zones.

Nothing beats comfort.

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