• Activity
  • 15 mins
  • Level 1: Introductory

History of online retail

Updated Monday 14th October 2013

The growth of online shopping since 1995: what happened when, how many of us were online, and where we could shop.

The Internet has changed the way we shop. Even those of us who do not regularly buy online use search online for prices, product specifications and availability before heading to the high street.

Retailers in the UK recognise that the internet is transforming the way that customers shop, re-shaping the high street as a result. Many of us now shop from our homes and on the move unrestricted by store opening times.

Research by IMRG suggests over 60 per cent of smartphone shoppers are planning to do their Christmas shopping by phone. Many of these shoppers admit to showrooming, a technique that involves browsing high street stores to find the product they like and then by buying via a smartphone or tablet computer at whichever online retailer offers the best price.

Only 20 years ago most of us were oblivious to the existence of the internet as a place to shop. Tesco and Asda dabbled with home shopping services via the computer in the mid-1980s, but it was not until the invention of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee that widespread consumer use of the Internet became a possibility.

Use the timeline below to explore the history of online retail. Move backwards and forwards through the years to find out what happened when, who was shopping online and where they could shop.

The growth of internet users worldwide

Below is a chart showing how the number of internet users has increased from 16 million in 1995 to almost 3 billion in 2013.

Creative commons image Icon Creative commons image The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

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