What people thought about ecommerce in 1994

In 2014, Time published a piece looking back at what people wrote about ecommerce in 1994, the year before Amazon was founded. I remember having Prodigy internet and a family email address back then. Here’s a few highlights:

The article explained how such curious services worked:

For ordering, many of the “computer stores” offer shoppers an 800 telephone number to call. Others are set up so a shopper can click on a box next to the desired gift, type in payment information and the shipping address and then hit a “Submit Order” button. Some companies even let shoppers pick out the wrapping paper via computer.

That’s pretty much how people talked about e-commerce in 1994, when it was brand-spanking-new, not to mention weird, sorta scary, and totally unfamiliar to most consumers. 

Another highlight:

For instance, a headline in The Financial Post (Canada) described e-commerce as a “tele-shopping magical experience,” and the story that followed was a bit dismissive of “the latest fad.” An October ’94 Computerworld story pointed to the group of skeptics who categorized online shopping as just another component of the “infohypeway” that was the Internet.

Mostly, though, what’s amazing is that, in retrospect, so much of what was said and written in 1994 about online shopping was pretty much right on the money. From the get-go, many people realized that e-commerce would revolutionize shopping, by making it cheaper, more convenient, and more customizable than traditional shopping in physical stores.

And a reminder of how far we’ve come:

Roland Bust, a marketing professor at Vanderbilt University, explained to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution that most consumers “don’t know where to go” when they attempted to shop online in 1994. “Like a real mall, a cyberspace mall has lots of stores, and finding a particular product can be hard unless a user knows which stores carry what,” the story summed up. Interestingly, the article also pointed to CD-ROMs as another online shopping option at the time. They sold for $8 and up, and when inserted into a computer, the consumer could access the contents of a couple dozen catalogues, from merchants like Spiegel and L.L. Bean.

Read the full post History of Online Shopping: What People Thought of E-Commerce in 1994 at Time.

Andrew @ EcomLoop
EcomLoop founder. I've worked in ecommerce since 2005, beginning with my own ebay store. I've run multiple independent ecommerce businesses on Magento, Joomla, and more recently, Shopify and WooCommerce. I believe marketplaces should be looked at as a sales channel and that all independent businesses should strive to build a direct connection with their audience for long-term success.

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