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5 Major Turning Points in the History of e-Commerce


To celebrate 50 years of Hughes innovation and leadership this year, we have been posting a “5 for 50” series that shares personal insights from Hughes executives on all things related to technology and trends. Here are 5 major turning points I see looking back on the history of e-commerce.

  • 1989–The Web is Conceived. In 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee (a software engineer at CERN) shared his first proposal for an information management system. Shortly after, he had written three fundamental aspects of today’s web: HTML: HyperText Markup Language; URI (or URL): Uniform Resource Identifier; HTTP: HyperText Transfer Protocol. These became critical tools for enabling everything we do on the Web, especially searching for and buying products online.
  • 1994—First Online Transaction. There are conflicting stories regarding which was the first online transaction. The New York Times gave credit to Dan Kohn, who built the website NetMarket and then subsequently sold a CD of Sting's "Ten Summoner's Tales" to a friend in Philadelphia in August 1994. But in 2013, Pizza Hut claimed on Twitter that it sold the first-ever product online in 1994: a pepperoni and cheese pizza. Apparently the two transactions happened within weeks of each other. Less than a year later in 1995, Amazon sold its first book: Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought by Douglas Hofstadter's. Within two months, Amazon had sold books to people in all 50 states and over 45 countries.
  • 1998—The Revolution of Online Payments. Instrumental to the growth of e-commerce was a company named Confinity, which developed security software for handheld devices. While it was a modest success, Confinity switched its focus to building an electronic payment system or digital wallet. After merging with an online bank, the company rebranded itself as PayPal in 2001 (and eventually acquired by eBay).
  • 2004—Transactions Become More Secure. As more and more people conducted business online, there was a growing need to better secure communications and transactions. In 2004, the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI) formed to ensure businesses were complying with security requirements and protecting customer account data.
  • 2010 to the Present—The Omnichannel Experience Evolves. The concept of omnichannel retail was first introduced to the marketing world in 2010, as a sales approach that provided a seamless shopping experience between mobile devices, laptops and brick-and-mortar stores. By 2020, when COVID-19 emerged, retailers saw a 50% increase in omnichannel shopping across the U.S. With this surge, omnichannel retailers began to reconsider online transactions as opportunities for digital touchpoints. Now, many are updating their omnichannel strategies to focus on creating a seamless digital experience between offline and online channels. Of course, few retailers have evolved as much as Amazon, which moved beyond simply selling books online to becoming a global influencer dominating the cloud market (now essential for the enterprise business) and shaping space exploration.

Check out other insights and trends here.