eCommerce 101

eCommerce 101

It seems as though we’ve transacted online forever, but really it is only in the last three decades that eCommerce – that is, the buying and selling of goods via online services or the Internet – in its current form has been around.

The History of eCommerce

The germ of the concept dates back around forty years though, to well before the Internet became ubiquitous.

Encryption technology around telecommunications and the semiconductor industry advanced enough that in 1979, English inventor and entrepreneur Michael Aldrich demonstrated the first ‘online shopping system’[1] using a modified television set connected to a transaction processing computer via a telephone line in the UK. He enabled automated business-to-customer or business-to-business transactions in a closed, secure loop that could be shared by third parties, which would go on to become what we called eCommerce today.

In 1982, Boston Computer Exchange, an online market for people to sell used computers, became the first eCommerce company.

eCommerce stores and marketplaces

It took another 10 years till Book Stacks Unlimited debuted as an online bookseller, using an dial-up bulletin board. In 1994, it moved over to the Internet at, today owned by Barnes & Noble.

In 1995, Amazon also launched as an online bookseller before converting into to a broad spectrum eCommerce store in 1998, and finally evolving into a marketplace that also accepted third-party sellers in 2000. Also in 1995, eBay was founded as an auction site which has gone on to become a giant of online retail globally. The takeup of broadband internet connections in the first decade of this century had a big part to play in this trend too.

Amazon set many of the standards for modern-day eCommerce by offering features that mail-order couldn’t, such as one-click shopping, comparison shopping across retailers, product reviews, quick and sometimes free delivery as well as easy returns.

In 2005, by adding a membership component with Amazon Prime that allowed for two-day shipping and later, access to its streaming service, and building warehouses across the US to be closer to the customer and cut delivery times, it revolutionized the supply chain management and fulfillment side of eCommerce. Etsy, the marketplace for crafts and small sellers, was also launched in 2000.

Membership is also how music streaming services such as Spotify and Deezer and operate – as premium subscription services – though actual streaming of music goes as far back as 1881 when the Theatrophone allowed listeners to listen to opera and theater performances via a telephone line. Netflix and Disney have, of course, done the same for video streaming, which has turned them into a club-type good.

While Amazon is the largest eCommerce store and marketplace globally in terms of revenue and market capitalization[2], Alibaba (founded 1999), Rakuten (founded 1997) in Asia and Mercado Libre (founded 1999) in Latin America are significant players in their markets.

Payment Infrastructure for eCommerce

In 1998, though, another important part of the eCommerce ecosystem, that of the payments that power it, launched when Paypal (originally Confinity) was founded. Paypal is now owned by eBay.

Since then, the proliferation of other digital wallets and peer-to-peer payment processing platforms such as Google Pay (previously Google Pay), Stripe and Apple Pay have made mobile payment even easier and more widespread.

Afterpay, Klarna and Paypal Credit are introducing customers to the idea of buy now, pay later, the practice of paying for eCommerce purchases in three or four installments like in actual retail, making it more widely accepted.

Anyone Can Have a Webshop

With customers not necessarily confined to a geographic location, there needed to be a way to reach them. Google Adwords, introduced in 2000, fulfilled that need. It allowed eCommerce businesses to advertise to people using Google search.

The arrival of Shopify in 2004 upended the till-then expensive coding and equipment necessary for the development of a webshop and point-of-sale systems and democratized it to allow anyone with an account to set one up using available templates. Shopify has built up a 20% market share in the US with WordPress plug-in WooCommerce themarket leader with 26%[3].

Types of eCommerce

Business to Business, B2b The traditional route where companies buy and sell goods and services with each other.

Business to Consumer, B2c This is the route when companies sell to consumers.

Business to Business to Customer, B2b2c A route where larger businesses sell to smaller entities who resell the product & services to a customer. A good example would be an HVAC company selling air conditioning equipment to a contractor who services the end customer.

Marketplaces This is where suppliers (business vendors and individual sellers) sell to buyers (businesses or consumers).

Consumer to Consumer (C2c) eBay is the best-known example of a platform that allows consumers to sell and buy products to each other.

Social, mobile and voice eCommerce applications

The future of eCommerce is all about shopping using mobile devices and apps and increasingly, voice. 81% of visits on Shopify sites is from mobiles[4]. SMS marketing is therefor becoming increasingly important. Social shopping has also taken off with brands using sponsored stories on Facebook and shoppable posts on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest to reach customers.

Choosing an eCommerce platform

BORN Group has been around since eCommerce was in its infancy. Today, we are integrators for the major systems including SAP Commerce, Salesforce Commerce, Adobe Commerce, BigCommerce, ShopifyPlus, Commercetools, VTEX, and Elastic Path. To make informed platform decisions, we use something called a 5C methodology as part of our technical roadmap that we call the Feature Value Matrix at BORN. These include:

Conform We identify requirements that can be supported to conform to out-of-the-box features in a platform.

Configure BORN identifies requirements that can be supported through configurations made to the platform.

Customize We determine the necessary customizations that will need to be built into the platform.

Compromise The configuration and integration of third party tool or systems such as ERP, OMS and CRM systems that cover tax systems, loyalty programs, payment gateways, fraud detection, affiliate programs, email campaign systems, and user reviews

Connect Identifying all requirements that are supported through integration and offer accelerators for a shorter time to market at a reduced cost.

Through optimization of the 5C’s BORN Group is able to pinpoint your businesses specific needs and map those requirements to the most efficient solution.

eCommerce: Even more potential

Currently, only around 14% of retail sales is e-retail[5]. Moreover, 4 in 10 people worldwide don’t have an internet connection and over half the world doesn’t have a smartphone[6], so there is still a huge amount of potential with regard to eCommerce. Expect to see more omnichannel experiences, personalization, and artificial intelligence-enabled shopping.

The situation with Covid saw eCommerce sales accelerate around the globe – the US alone saw a 30% growth[7] – and is expected to touch USD 476 billion in 2024[8].

To know more about how BORN is leading the charge to merge usability with shopability by making informed platform decisions  to drive consumers online, click here.

[1] Michael Aldrich Invents Online Shopping,,

[2] Global Amazon retail e-commerce sales 2017-2021, Statista,

[3] Ecommerce Platform Marke Share in the USA, Oberlo,

[4] Shopify Announces Third-Quarter 2019 Financial Results, Shopify,

[5] E-commerce share of total global retail sales from 2015 to 2023, Statista,

[6] How Many People Have Smartphones In The World?,

[7] US Ecommerce Growth Jumps to More than 30%, Accelerating Online Shopping Shift by Nearly 2 Years, emarketer,

[8] Retail e-commerce sales in the United States from 2017 to 2024, Statista,

A Direct Route to Customer Hearts, Wallets, and Stomachs

A Direct Route to Customer Hearts, Wallets, and Stomachs

Presented by BORN Group and Shopify Plus

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) food and beverage sales have come full circle from the days when farmers sold fresh eggs, meat and produce or prepared items such as jams and pickles from his farm store or a stand to his regular customers. He knew their names, he knew where they lived, and he knew how they were going to use those products to prepare a meal.

What better way to respond to customer needs and their long-term buying behavior than to have regular and direct contact with them? Consumers who are well-versed in shopping from their increasingly connected homes on online marketplaces such as Amazon globally and, Pinduoduo, and Alibaba in Asia are also irrevocably turning to them for their food and beverage needs. 

Amazon responded with initiatives such as Amazon Fresh grocery delivery and Subscribe & Save. The fracturing of the food and beverage landscape by digital-native vertical brands such as snack brands UnReal and Rxbar in the US, non-alcoholic apéritif brand Seedlip and noodle brand Mr Lee’s in the UK, fitness food brand Foodspring in Germany and snack brand Three Squirrels in China are chipping away at traditional brands’ business – and margins – with products that are special, authentic and transparent, and cater to conscious eating trends. Now consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies and brands are taking their lead and following their customers online to stay competitive.

This propensity of consumers to shop online and on mobile has led to beverage company AB InBev’s DTC sales touching a figure of US$1 billion a year1. AB InBev, whose stable of beer brands include Budweiser, Busch, Corona and Stella Artois, says they have made 250 million DTC customer connections across stores, popups and websites. Like many other companies dipping their toes into DTC, they used Asian countries as a test market – AB InBev’s China DTC business is booming – before launching them worldwide. 

Nestle is another DTC pioneer. Earlier this year, they announced that British consumers could get the brand’s snacks, candy and coffee delivered to their doorstep via delivery service Deliveroo. In addition, Nestle’s KitKat Chocolatory offered customers the opportunity to order custom chocolate through a website and popups first before opening standalone stores first in Tokyo before rolling them out around the world. 

While newer entrants such as the plant-based food brands Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are going the DTC route offering bulk, trial and combo product packs, even brands that have been around for a long time are joining the bandwagon. Maille has been selling its mustard products through retailers since 1723. Since the company’s acquisition by Unilever, they are now available directly through their own website, while household name Heinz is bundling products such as beans and spaghetti for home delivery. Pepsico, another staple brand, set up within a month to allow users to select specialized bundles of products such as Quaker oats and Gatorade under categories such as ‘Snacking’ and ‘Workout & Recovery’ with free and fast delivery. 

Why Go The Direct-to-Consumer Route?

CPG brands – traditionally sold via sales channels such as retail stores or third-party eCommerce sites – are sensitive to any changes to those channels. Besides, brand growth for CPGs are slowing on regular channels, if not going away entirely. The Centre for Retail Research predicts, for instance, that more than 20,000 British shops will close in 2020, a 28% increase on 20192.

In an uncertain retail environment, Lindt Canada, historically a brick and mortar supermarket and high-street staple in many countries, went online using Shopify Plus in just five days and enabled curbside pickup at its stores before Easter 2020 and the start of the company’s second-largest annual sales period3.

Another way to growth – build it or buy it

In 2020, eMarketer forecasts that DTC as a percentage of eCommerce sales will grow by 24.3% to US$17.75 billion, rising to US$21 billion in 20214. The share of ecommerce in F&B is also expected to grow to 15-20% in 20255.

Credit: LEK Consulting

CPG companies are investing in DTC models and platforms, alongside their traditional sales channels, to enable direct contact with their end-customers. 

In doing so, they can also:

  • Own the customer relationship
  • Build trust with their customers
  • Gather first-person data
  • Offer loyalty programs and run promotions
  • Personalize the experience across all channels. 
  • Extend the customer experience into different channels such as events and experiences 

Another route is to set up internal innovation labs to develop products specifically for DTC. AB InBev has its ZX Ventures. Ocean Spray is another brand trying to expand from its cranberry juice association to move into new products such as water enhancers for dogs, a line of herbal tonics, and an oral supplement to help protect the skin from the sun. 

Acquisitions can be yet another way to grow. HelloFresh, which has built a leading position with its meal kits subscription service is extending its brand by acquiring Factor 75, a company specializing in health ready meals geared towards health and wellness. Besides bringing with it offices, production and fulfillment facilities, this newest addition joins other portfolio brands such as EveryPlate, which offers affordable meal kits and Green Chef, which offers healthy meals6.

How to Go DTC?

Defining your goals and strategy at the outset of your DTC transformation journey is important. Things to consider include infrastructure support, supply chain networks, frameworks to underpin orders and data as well as the product mix.

The main components for CPG brands considering a DTC transformation, just like with other products that are sold direct, are a robust eCommerce infrastructure that offers speedy set-up, access and can scale quickly, a supply chain and logistics providers that can provide on-time, hassle-free fulfillment, and robust customer data platform and great customer service. Free and fast shipping is part of the deal on most DTC platforms.

Customer Experience is Key

With DTC as a new model of business, customer experience becomes paramount and the brand owns each and every touchpoint. Customers want not just convenience and easy intuitive UX, but they are often looking for the product to improve over time. DTC turns the sales process into a two-way street taking customer feedback to tweak current products or even develop new products. User-generated content is also a common feature. An easy-to-access and centralized customer record is also an essential tool for personalized and intuitive customer service. 

First Person Data

First person data is exclusive to your company and its origin is completely transparent. DTC models use data platforms that can gather first-person data not just from buying behaviour but also from channels such as ad campaigns, emails and social media. AI and machine learning can be applied to get deep insights as well as find influencers7

Building customer relationships and community

Aside from being data protection regulations compliant, the best backends crunch through data on engagement metrics and create a funnel for constant reviews and feedback from customers to power loyalty programs that keep said customers coming back for more. Allowing customers to take advantage of small perks, like free shipping, free returns, or access to exclusive SKUs, gives customers a reason to shop with you.

A big opportunity with omnichannel strategies is to connect customers with an experiential program, be they special events or experiences, with rewards for participation.  Alcohol brand Campari, for example, hosts happy hour Zoom chats, while MyKitKat workshops can be reserved at KitKat Chocolatory stores. Another example is Mondelez’ Toblerone, which offers custom printed sleeves for travel retail.


By leveraging first-party data and your community, you create a two-way relationship in which community members collaborate with you to co-create new products. You can also test products quickly and get customer feedback before investing in large production runs. Unilever not only sells ice cream flavors on its online store for Ben & Jerry’s, but also their latest Pint Slice innovations, T-shirts and merchandise. The data showed that cereal flavors were a popular concept so new flavors such as Fruit Loot and Frozen Flakes were created.

Brand Control

Instead of relying on other retailers to get your messaging right, take control over how your brand messages its products, creating consistency across all brand-owned touchpoints. By maintaining your brand identity and relationship with the consumer throughout their purchasing journey, you open up new opportunities to connect, achieve a personal touch and create value in unique and meaningful ways.

Marketing to Drive Sales and Cross-selling

The first-person data gathered can also be used to tweak marketing strategies, such as tailoring the messaging and sending out promotions or contests at the right time of day, week, or month. The larger share of millennial customers also means a different marketing mix such as more below-the-line marketing or social media in general9.

When taking a retail-only approach, you can miss out on opportunities to resell, upsell, and cross-sell. Going DTC allows you to test upsell and cross-selling opportunities, not only on site but also through social and email campaigns.


DTC enables you to create a more efficient distribution and sales process and helps to retain revenue that would usually go to intermediaries. It also allows for better inventory control, allowing you to scale supply levels based on insights from data.

Channel diversification

Shoppers in four major markets surveyed – US, UK, Germany and France – are increasingly going online to look for CPG products10.

A diversified growth strategy allows you to test additional channels to see what works best with your audience, as each channel will bring a specific value. Further, such a strategy can result in benefits such as:

• Improved brand awareness and recall

• Measurable engagement

• Precision targeting and retargeting

• Direct communications via email

By owning the entire supply chain, you receive data gathered during the whole customer journey. This gives you the agility to test new advertising channels and digest results quickly.

Choosing a global platform such as Shopify Plus means you can use it to sell across 20 channels in over 175 countries in multiple currencies and languages. Of course, an omnichannel strategy also means that customer service should have the right technology and business tools to move across channels and offer personalized service regardless.

The KitKat Chocolatory store concept discussed above also includes other KitKats flavors from other countries as well as digital innovations such as printing photos on KitKats. 


One way to keep customers coming back is the subscription model, which works well for food and beverage items such as pet and baby food where there is a regular incentive to purchase.

While subscription can help companies improve forecasting, smarter cross-selling is also possible. The best baby food companies not only offer products for babies as they grow but also customized pouches (Little Spoon), organic purees (Once Upon a Farm) and solid and finger food for growing children (Nurture Life, Yumble Kids, Tiny Organics). Arla’s Baby&Me concept in China, on the other hand, seeks to foster connections and develop trust with parents through a direct approach.

All in all, the sale of food and beverages direct to consumers online is a trend that is here to stay. What we are seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg. Many of the newer brands may  not be able to sustain current growth patterns, but we are without doubt in an era where brands pivot to become their own retailers, bringing DTC to the forefront of a new normal. 



1.  Inside Anheuser-Busch InBev’s $1b a year DTC business,, March 2020

2. The Crisis in Retailing: Closures and Job Losses, Centre for Retail Research, 31 March 2020

3. Lindt opened its first ecommerce store in 5 days to serve customers in a COVID-19 world,

4. Direct-to-Consumer Brands 2020: Growing Pains Hit Disruptor Brands on Their Path to Maturity, eMarketer, March 2020

5. Online Food & Beverage Sales Are Poised to Accelerate — Is the Packaging Ecosystem Ready?, LEK Consulting, February 2019

6. HelloFresh acquires meal producer Factor75, RetailDetail, 24 Nov 2020

7. How artificial intelligence is influencing Unilever’s marketing, Digiday, April 2019

8. Inside Anheuser-Busch InBev’s $1b a year DTC business,, March 2020

9. Reinvigorating growth in the consumer-goods industry,, August 2020

10. CPG Goes Omnichannel: Shoppers Grasp the Digital Opportunity,, March 2018