Twenty years ago this week, someone paid $12.48 plus shipping for this:
We're not talking about Sting's 1993 album – “Ten Summoner’s Tales" – for its musical merits. It is, in fact, pretty average as far as Sting albums go, with two hit singles and a few Grammy nominations. No, "Ten Summoner's Tales" has made it into the annals of contemporary history as the unremarkable item purchased in the first "online secure commercial transaction." It was the sale that proved online retail safe enough to make it, well, average.
From the New York Times on August 11, 1994:
"At noon yesterday, Phil Brandenberger of Philadelphia went shopping for a compact audio disk, paid for it with his credit card and made history.
Moments later, the champagne corks were popping in a small two-story frame house in Nashua, N.H. There, a team of young cyberspace entrepreneurs celebrated what was apparently the first retail transaction on the Internet using a readily available version of powerful data encryption software designed to guarantee privacy.
Experts have long seen such iron-clad security as a necessary first step before commercial transactions can become common on the Internet, the global computer network."
Tech-watchers had high hopes for retail on that "global computer network". In March of 1994, researchers at USC's Information Sciences Institute put out a paper called "Electronic Commerce on the Internet". In a section titled "Vision", they wrote:
"Every aspect of the acquisition process is handled seamlessly; participants need never revert to off-line paper communications. Buyers can browse multimedia catalogs, solicit bids and place orders. Sellers can respond to bids, schedule production, and coordinate deliveries. Third parties lubricate the marketplace via such value-added services as specialized directories, brokering, referral, and vendor certification."
After that, the phrase "e-commerce" started popping up everywhere (it was almost as pervasive as Marketplace host David Brancaccio's favorite, "information superhighway"). By 1999, the Census had begun requesting e-commerce data as part of the overall economic picture. Commerce Department surveys showed the number of people shopping online rocketed from 13 percent in 2000 to 21 percent in 2001.
Retailers waded straight into those "Fields of Gold".
Today, those numbers have quadrupled. Forrester says approximately 69 percent of Americans regularly buy products online, and those consumers generally do 16 percent of their shopping over the Internet. In their words, more and more people shop from rooms "besides their office," like the living room or the kitchen, on tablets and cell phones – many of which they bought online in the first place.
To put it mildly, e-retail continues to grow: