Ecommerce has always relied on technical innovation. The first ecommerce company, Boston Computer Exchange in 1982, was on the bleeding edge, to say the least.
A little more than a decade later, in 1995, Amazon and eBay got things going for online sales. And these companies, too, were technical innovators.
Even now, pundits link the growth of ecommerce with emerging technologies. Artificial intelligence is the latest example.
While innovation is critical and AI could upend much of the industry, it’s worth remembering that ecommerce is about providing desirable products conveniently at a price that is profitable for the seller and attractive to the buyer.
I apparently overlooked that reminder back in 2014 when I addressed nascent technologies that would upend the ecommerce industry.
In a Practical Ecommerce article on August 11, 2014, titled “Could These 5 Technologies Change Ecommerce?,” I wrote, “Five emerging technologies could change ecommerce in just the next few years, giving shoppers new access to products and the ability to customize some items for their particular needs.
“Mobile computing, cryptocurrencies, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, and augmented reality each have the potential to dramatically change how, when, and why shoppers make internet-enabled purchases.”
In general, those technologies have not materially altered ecommerce. Let’s consider them one by one.
Mobile computing. In 2014, I was not thinking about smartphones. Rather, I was thinking about “new” mobile forms and functions. I thought Google Glass, smartwatches, and similar products would impact how consumers shopped.
I imagined folks walking about wearing smart glasses equipped with image recognition software. If they saw someone wearing a nice jacket, those folks might receive a prompt to purchase it in the glass’s heads-up display.
While smartwatches are now common and some of these technologies are more than possible, this is not how we shop in 2023.
Cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin and its progeny were supposed to offer lower transaction fees and near immunity to online fraud. Ecommerce companies were to transact in digital currencies, exchanging Bitcoins for dollars and being better for it, or so we thought in 2014.
That is not the case after all. In 2022, cryptocurrency payments represented 0.19% of the total value of global ecommerce transactions, according to Statista.
Yet the technology does impactsecommerce and retail circa 2023 via blockchains for securing data. Otherwise, cryptocurrencies are not suitable for paying for products online. They are too volatile and far from mainstream.
Nonetheless, many observers place cryptocurrencies on lists of emerging ecommerce technologies. But I officially have my doubts.
3D printing. In 2014, I was the director of marketing and ecommerce for a farm and ranch retail chain with stores in Oregon and Idaho.
Our products included small plastic fixtures, face plates for electrical outlines, and other smallish, monotone plastic items.
We discussed whether these items could be 3D printed on demand rather than ordered from overseas in relatively large quantities and inventoried in multiple warehouses and stores.
We were not alone in our thinking. Many companies imagined that 3D printing would disrupt retail sales. But this has not happened to a significant degree. Thus 3D printing is another technology that didn’t change ecommerce.
Autonomous vehicles. A little more than nine years ago, I envisioned swarms of autonomous vehicles offering same-day or even same-hour ecommerce delivery.
I still believe something like this is possible if not likely. But it did not happen in the five-year timeframe I suggested in 2014.
The market for autonomous delivery is around $13 billion in 2023. So while technology has not yet changed ecommerce, it still might.
Augmented reality. The so-called metaverse is undoubtedly popular, and loads of experts believe it will change ecommerce.
“Even though barely scratching the surface, metaverse in ecommerce has already revolutionized the industry. Industry giants such as Warby Parker have adopted AR technology in their business (one component of the metaverse), letting their customers try the frame before purchasing,” according to mobile experience firm Appinventiv.
But these changes are still forthcoming, not a reality. Thus from the perspective of my 2014 article, AR also hasn’t changed ecommerce after all.
Ecommerce boiled down provides a convenient way to purchase products at an attractive price for sellers and buyers. Technologists such as yours truly will always speculate about coming changes to ecommerce or who folks shop. But not every shiny new thing changes us after all.