At the start of the internet era, the action of purchasing products online was often accompanied by the vision of a shady character ready to steal your credit card information. However, this image has changed in recent years, and e-commerce has become an entirely acceptable part of the buying process for the vast majority of consumers.

Over the past two decades, e-commerce has entirely revolutionised the retail industry. E-commerce was only a pipe dream a few generations ago, and now it’s one of the most popular ways to shop. From its humble beginnings in the 1970s, to when people first began creating e-commerce websites in the 1990s, to its explosion of new technology and popularity in the 2010s, e-commerce has evolved over its lifespan to become the ubiquitous part of shopping is today.

This is just the first 40 years of e-commerce’s existence. The last decade has seen levels of change and growth in the industry no one could have predicted.

The evolution of e-commerce started slowly. As we entered the 2000s, the majority of innovation in the industry came. However, as we enter the 2010s, e-commerce has exploded in both growth and popularity.

Today, e-commerce is a trillion-dollar industry. In 2020, global e-commerce sales topped $4.13 trillion, an 18% increase from 2019 —more than 73% of total sales were on mobile devices in 2021. Globally, around one-third of people now make an online purchase at least once per week, and China remains the top e-commerce market globally, followed by the US, UK and Japan.

The impact of e-commerce

The impact of e-commerce is far and wide, with a ripple effect from small businesses to global enterprises.

1) Large retailers are forced to sell online

For many retailers, e-commerce has expanded their brand and positively impacted their bottom lines. But for retails who have been slow to embrace the online marketplace, the impact has been different.

2) E-commerce helps small businesses sell directly to customers

For many small businesses, adopting e-commerce has been a slow process. However, those adopting it has discovered that it can open new doors and opportunities. Pre-pandemic (Covid), small businesses were working to expand their online presence. Today, 23% of small business owners feel that they have to strengthen their online capabilities to survive in a post-pandemic world. Another 23% of small business owners have created a website or updated their existing one since the start of lockdown.

3) Business-2-Business companies started offering Business-2-Consumer-like online ordering experiences

B2B companies are improving their customer experience online to catch up with B2C companies. This includes creating omnichannel for B2B and B2C touchpoints and personalised customer experiences.

4) The rise of e-commerce marketplaces

E-commerce marketplaces started with giants like Amazon, Alibaba, and others worldwide since the mid-1990s. In South Africa -Takealot that only launched in 2011.

In this chart, we can see that Amazon is the outlier in regards to e-commerce growth:

By offering a broad selection of products and convenience to customers, these large companies could scale up rather quickly through innovation and optimisation.

5) New jobs are created, but traditional retail jobs are reducing

Over the past 5 years, jobs related to e-commerce has increased two-fold. E-commerce jobs are up 334%, adding more than 178,000 jobs since 2002.

The flip side of this is that uptick in efficiency paired with a shift away from traditional retail may lead to job losses or workforce reduction. As with any major market shift, there are both positive and negative impacts on employment.

6) Customers shop differently

Online retail (omnichannel) has had a significant impact on customers. It is revolutionising the way modern consumers shop. 27.6% of the world’s population prefer to shop online rather than in-store. In other words, more than one out of every four people is an online shopper.

Millennials are the largest demographic of online shoppers (67%), but Gen. X and Baby Boomers are close behind, with 56% and 41% respectively participating in online shopping.

7) Social media lets consumers easily share products to buy online

E-commerce has made an interesting social impact, especially within social media. Today, shoppers discover and are influenced to purchase products or services based on friends’ recommendations, trusted sources and social media influencers on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tick Tock.

8) Global e-commerce is growing rapidly

The future of e-commerce is looking bright. By 2025, the global e-Commerce market is projected to reach $4.2T in revenue.

The fast-growing e-commerce market is evolving just as quickly as it is expanding. With rapid innovation in the e-commerce landscape, this space could look vastly different in the future.

E-Commerce trends that are transforming the future

Omnichannel Shopping

Most consumers research a brand online before shopping online or in a physical store. Because the consumer now has more than one touchpoint across various devices, it is becoming more critical for businesses to integrate their channels to provide a smooth and holistic shopping experience. That is what omnichannel shopping aims to do – seamlessly integrate a company’s physical and online channels. Omnichannel strategies can be a valuable revenue driver. According to research by Google, omnichannel strategies can help generate an estimate of 80% of a business’s in-store visits.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR)

AI & AR are transforming e-commerce with Artificial intelligence-enabled chatbots, virtual assistance, AI-enabled personalised shopping, and AR-apps that help to replicate the physical store online. These meta platforms would ideally provide an easier and more enjoyable shopping experience. These technologies are impressive on their own. However, combining them to this level elevates the shopping experience.

New Payment Options

Seamless payments options are part of the process to make online shopping more convenient. Therefore, it is crucial that customers are provided with a variety of payment options at checkout to reduce cart abandonment. These may include:

  • Digital wallets
  • Mobile payments
  • Cryptocurrency

The rise of Visual Commerce

We live in a world of information overload, meaning brands are constantly competing for consumers’ attention. That is why visual communication is more critical than ever. Businesses use visual tactics like videos, high-quality photography and AR to keep customers engaged. Visual commerce can help drive revenue. According to a study by one of the largest e-commerce platforms, Shopify, customers who view a product in AR were 65% more likely to make a purchase.

Data-Driven, Dynamic Pricing

Dynamic pricing is when businesses adjust pricing to reflect consumer demand. While it is not a new phenomenon, AI and new technology have made it more accurate and accessible to online platforms. Companies like Amazon and Takealot have already implemented the technology to help them optimise their pricing strategies to boost earnings.

10 Largest e-commerce platforms in the world by revenue

*For 2021 [Source:]

It might be hard to believe, but even with the growth that e-commerce has already made, the industry is positioned for massive future growth. At the same time, another massive shift is the increase in innovations in technology. While 100% online shopping is still a way to go, the demand for e-commerce is set to rise.


  1. The Evolution of Ecommerce Timeline by Christina Marfice {]
  2. Evolution Ecommerce by Sarah Wai []
  3. Visual Capitalist []
  4. Ecommerce []