Proceed to Checkout: The Unexpected Story of How Ecommerce Started

From trading cattle with your neighbor, to buying pizza online - it’s clear that commerce has changed tremendously over time.

But what was the catalyst for it all? How did something like ecommerce become this $1.915 trillion (€1.68 trillion) industry?

In celebration of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we decided to play detective to find the truth behind the history of ecommerce. We wanted to uncover the first product to ever be sold online.

Our findings were pretty surprising.

What is Ecommerce?

We found that one of the first things ever purchased online, was a large pizza from Pizza Hut in 1994. Just recently, Pizza Hut celebrated the 20th anniversary of that online transaction by giving all medium and large pizza orders 50 percent off when purchased online.

While it's true that pizza was one of the first things purchased on the internet - there were actually other transactions made online before the inception of the Internet (as we know it) even existed.

In the 1970s, Stanford students used Arpanet (an early packet switching network and the first network to implement the protocol suite TCP/IP) accounts to engage in a transaction with students at MIT. They used the network to quietly arrange the sale, and purchase, of the first product ever sold through telecommunications - marijuana.

The key ecommerce pioneer, however, wasn’t Pizza Hut or Stanford students - no, it was actually someone purchasing a Sting CD on the 11th of August 1994. It was the first ever ‘secure online purchase’, or ecommerce transaction, when it was sold by US retail platform NetMarket.

Since that seminal transaction, commerce changed forever. Little did that Sting fan know, his transaction paved the way for ecommerce as we know it.