A beginner’s guide to e-commerce, and what it is all about.

It’s the most popular buzzword across industry at the moment and one of the fastest-growing sectors of our generation: e-commerce. It’s driving new kinds of business in our increasingly digital world, and there are no signs of a slow down. But what is e-commerce?

What does e-commerce mean?

First, a standard definition.

E-commerce is any form of online shopping. Commerce is to buy or sell, and the ‘e’ stands for electronic. So, just as the word ‘email’ emerged from the concept of internet mailing, and an e-book is a digital version of your favourite novel, e-commerce means online trade.

As a sector, e-commerce is growing 23% year-on-year, according to estimates from eMarketer. eCommerce retail sales alone are expected to top more than $27 trillion USD in 2020, making up a huge chunk of sales in the entire sector; clearly, this is a lucrative market to be in the know about. It does seem as though any high-street brand has an online shopping presence, but the world of online trading goes far beyond that.

What are the different types of e-commerce?

Just like with any business, there are several different types of e-commerce. Business-to-business (B2B), Business-to-consumer (B2C) and so on: the same business models still apply, but if it’s happening online, it’s e-commerce.

There are stores which sell physical goods such as clothes, furniture, groceries, toiletries – anything you can think of, there’s probably someone selling it online. These are the most common models of online retailers, and additionally the best-known.

There are also service-based e-tailers. These aren’t selling a physical product, but might sell something like insurance, consulting services or even freelance work. Digital products inhabit a space between the two, and form an additional type of e-commerce: virtual education or skills courses and e-books might fall under this category.

Other names for e-commerce

Sometimes styled as ecommerce, other names include ‘e-tail’, ‘e-trade’ or ‘internet retailing’.