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September 9, 2021

The History of eCommerce

In 2021, eCommerce and online shopping has become the norm. But where did it all start? Let’s take a trip back in time.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Grocery Store

The concept of self-service shopping dates back more than 100 years, with the grocery industry’s earliest pioneer: Clarence Saunders. Grocery shopping changed forever when Saunders opened the doors to the first Piggly Wiggly in 1916. The store chain’s “self-service” model allowed customers to select and collect their own grocery items, which was a departure from the existing shopping model that called for store clerks to collect items at the direction of customers or from their shopping lists.

Saunders found that by allowing customers to shop independently, fewer store clerks were needed and his operating costs decreased significantly. That led to lower prices on the shelves. Customers were thrilled with their reduced grocery expenses and by the control that they were now given over their buying decisions. Other grocery retailers seized on the new model and shopping was changed forever.

Self-service grocery shopping was the first step toward today’s eCommerce world. It wouldn’t be until the middle of the 20th century that modern eCommerce began to take shape.


Through Time

Here are a few benchmarks that led to the modern age of eCommerce.

1969: CompuServe develops Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), which allows businesses to send data via telephone lines.

1979: British inventor Michael Aldrich integrates modified televisions and transaction-processing computers with EDI to show how electronic shopping could work.

1984: CompuServe takes a step forward by launching the Electronic Mall, which allows users to purchase products from 100 individual merchants. Take a look back at this dramatic shift in the shopping paradigm through these historic video news clips.

1993: The first commercially available Internet browser, Mosaic, was launched. This soon gave retailers the ability to reach wider audiences and presented shoppers with their desired products in a few simple clicks.

1994: Phil Brandenberger purchased the Sting CD Ten Summoners’ Tales through NetMarket, marking the first secure online transaction.

1995-1998: Amazon, eBay, and PayPal are introduced to the public.

1999: eCommerce hits the $150 billion benchmark worldwide.

2012: Instacart is launched, and online grocery shopping takes off. The platform allows shoppers to order groceries online and pick up fulfilled orders at the store.

2017: Global eCommerce sales reach $29.267 trillion, with $25.516 trillion in B2B transactions and $3.851 trillion in B2C sales.

2020: In 2020, the U.S. online grocery market generates sales of about $95.8 billion, a 54% increase from 2019.


So, What’s Next?

The pandemic of 2020 opened the eyes of consumers to the convenience of online grocery shopping, and there has been a surge in acceptance to that method. It’s clear that the future of online grocery services is bright.

According to a recent study by Mercatus, online grocery shopping will account for 21.5% of total grocery sales by 2025. The projections estimate that eCommerce shopping will comprise nearly $250 billion of the $1.16 trillion overall grocery market.


Transforming Retail Merchandising at Every Turn

As a leader in grocery retail solutions, Retail Space Solutions is focused on creating safe and efficient shopping experience for consumers and store employees. If you’re ready to discuss how to enhance your store operations, reach out to our team at Retail Space Solutions by visiting or call 1-800-279-5291.