In 2014, online retail is worth £100bn a year in the UK alone, but exactly 20 years ago it was worth precisely the amount of one arguably average album by the transatlantic tantric pop warbler, Sting.
In what seems like a pretty hefty sum by today’s standards ($12.48 plus shipping), a CD version of ‘Ten Summoner’s Tale’, which featured a sleeve design of Sting staring longingly at a horse's backend, etched itself into retail history on 11th August 1994, by becoming the very first item to be sold as a ‘secure online purchase’, or via an ecommerce transaction, when it was flogged by US retail platform NetMarket.
How little Sting would have known (or possibly, cared) about the fields of gold that awaited those brave enough to incorporate selling through digital channels on that monumental day; however, in the 20 years that proceeded that sale, the global ecommerce market has grown to become worth approximately $1.5 trillion in B2C sales alone.
In the UK it is stated that 74% of all British adults have purchased goods online (ONS statistics), while research commissioned by Shop Direct states that one in four of us now buy online at least once a week; with books, clothing and accessories, music and entertainment, electronics, and holidays and travel, the most popular items.
Amazon.com has led the ecommerce revolution, and it’s a pretty revealing statistic that the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, is now said to have a net worth of $29.9bn, or roughly the same amount as the GDP of Estonia.
“Ecommerce and mobile technology has empowered consumers as they are no longer restricted to particular goods and services from one retailer or locality, [and] they can shop around different brands and even in different countries at their convenience,” says Roger Brown, CEO of personalisation provider, Peerius.
“A revolution in value, pricing and delivery over two decades means that today we can enjoy the ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales’ album online for free on Spotify and traditional record stores have all but disappeared.
Ecommerce’s relationship with mobile devices is expected to dictate trends in shopping behaviour in coming years, but despite this, the physical shopping experience isn’t expected to be wiped out by it; in fact, perhaps the most interesting development in ecommerce’s next 20 years will be how digital comes together with bricks-and-mortar retail to offer customers that Holy Grail that is the perfect shopping experience:
“Many high street retailers continue to thrive and understand how online shopping can complement in-store shopping and not compete,” Roger Brown adds. “Ultimately online is a digital store and is working towards the same business goals – to deliver an engaging shopping experience and drive sales. The mass adoption of mobile devices is forcing retailers to adapt rapidly to changing consumer behaviour and recent stats from IMRG also reveal that multichannel retailers are outperforming online-only retailers on mobile devices.
“Traditionally shopping was a leisure activity and with today’s busy lifestyles it needs to adapt to this pressure. Online shopping enables consumers to browse freely, purchase quickly and find information easily wherever they are and on their preferred device. The rise of geo-location technology will further revolutionise both online and in-store shopping as consumers receive personalised messages in real-time to create an engaging experience however they prefer to purchase goods or services.”
With this in mind, Sting’s premonition about ‘Heavy Cloud No Rain’ for bricks-and-mortar commerce (ok, it may not have been written about that) may come to pass. And it could be win-win for the ex-Police frontman: with more channels making it easier for consumers to buy, ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales’ will surely be flying off the shelves, physical or digital, for years to come.