Monday, November 30, 2015

First Internet ecommerce was at least 1990

This article from FastCompany claims that the first Internet e-commerce transaction was 1994. This isn't true. The site "" was selling CDs online since 1990. Well, they claim 1990, I don't know what evidence they have. But I personally can remember buying CDs on their site for over a year before I switched jobs in mid-1994 (so probably at least 1993).

I write this up because it's apparently an important concern when Internet e-commerce was "invented", so I'm writing up what I witnessed. It's a silly competition, of course, since Internet e-commerce is such an obvious idea that nobody can "invent" it. Somebody probably accepted payments for things online even before that. But, as of 1993 when I purchased music, CDconnection was a well-honed business, a "site", with an interface, with a wide selection, using Telnet with V100 commands to format the screen.


zenographie said...

Dr Mr Graham

Agreed. The idea itself is even older. I remember buying a licence for Qmodem that I downloaded from a BBS, circa 1984. Most of these shareware development where already sold "online".
Security was not an issue: you had to call the developer (no 800 number), give your credit card number, name, exp. date … and he gave you the activation code without verifying the account. That was not really “PCI-DSS friendly”, but trust was the key element in this kind of transaction.


pjt said...

There are many ways to define "e-commerce" and "Internet", but I remember purchasing computer equipment from a marketplace operating on top of NNTP in 1989. I had no credit card, payment was with direct bank transfer (so you really had to trust the vendor).

Yes there were of course BBS systems doing commerce on top of Fidonet way before that (I was even running a node that carried some of those forums) but that's not "Internet" because it wasn't on top of TCP/IP.

Derek Kerton, The Kerton Group said...

Yep. I bought flowers online from FTD in 1994 from a full e-commerce-like storefront. Complete with visuals of flowers, description, prices, and "enter credit card here".

And I was by no means the first. You can be sure people on "the Well" or other Bulletin Boards were selling stuff. May not qualify as e-commerce without a storefront, though.

zenographie said...

I just remember... in fact, ecommerce is even older than this and is definitely not "IP based".

The most important department stores and supermarkets in France and in Germany where already using Minitel and Bildchirmtext network (X25 based), with an online catalog, payment processing and so on. I used to "go shopping" with my alphabetical keyboard, paying online and waiting for delivery. Banks were also offering account "remote consultation/browsing" (no transactions). And many services were burgeoning (quite a lot with "adult content", but also airline reservation and other information svc like online newspapers).

It was circa 1980/1990.

I remember well the very first IP host I built, end of 1983, beginning 1984. We all were real bigot at this time. Speaking of ecommerce, money, even mentioning a commercial brand was considered as filthy and disgusting.

Indeed, BBS's didn't create the idea of ecommerce. But they gave us some insight on what could be done with the Internet: the online commercial capacity of the Minitel combined with the international dimension of the public network