E-commerce is now a part of daily life for businesses and for consumers. As the years go by, more and more retailers have virtual storefronts and online marketplaces are a first port-of-call for sellers of new and used items. Numerous business to business trades also occur online and it seems as though the trend for buying and selling online is only going to increase. Examining the history of e-commerce, it is interesting to note that despite its recent origins, confusion abounds in the facts concerning its rise to prominence.

Today marks two decades since the owners of NetMarket announced that they had conducted the first ever secure online retail transaction. Fundamental to the success of e-commerce, secure transactions are also said to have been made possible by the release of Netscape’s Navigator browser with SSL encryption in October 1994. Whether it started in August or October, secure purchasing quickly took off. Also in 1994, the first secure online purchase was Sting’s ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales’ and it was this and similar success stories which prompted the US National Science Foundation to allow commercial enterprise online.

Although secure transactions were relatively new, online transactions were definitely not. In times predating the World Wide Web, in fact from as early as the 1960s, businesses, universities and government organisations were using computer networks to share information of varying kinds. By 1979, the internet had spread and progressed, allowing British inventor Michael Aldrich to devise and demonstrate online shopping and British retailers, including Thomson Holidays and Tesco, to become among the first to introduce online shopping solutions (Thomson’s being business to business and Tesco’s being business to customer).

Although early trailblazers led the way, the ability to carry out secure transactions has enabled the shopping revolution of the last two decades. Many businesses have been transformed by the capability and countless new companies have been founded based on the existence of the secure online transaction.