America is proud of its innovations, and as a result we’re sometimes slow to admit that the latest technology sometimes only reiterates, in a sleeker and smaller form, conveniences that have been around for a long time. (There were telegrams for more than a century before there was Twitter, for example.) We love our tech so much, in fact, that sometimes we neglect to appreciate the history and the heritage that comes with it.
Catalogs and Internets
The online marketplace, also called the world of ecommerce and the ecommerce arena, is the successor to the mail order catalog industry that occupied a huge sector of the American economy for more than a hundred and fifty years. Indeed, the mail order catalog companies helped Americans settle the frontier: late 19the Century catalogs from Sears Roebuck list everything from clothes to hardware to entire pre-fabricated houses available for purchase, with delivery through the mail. Imagine the order fulfillment needs of an entire house!
In time, however, the Internet replaced the catalog industry by providing immediate conversion to ecommerce business customers. The chief advantage, obviously, was the ability to quickly close the transaction, with only the shipping and order processing left to accomplish on the part of the ecommerce merchant.
But the expectation persisted, almost from the beginning, that the online business would be able to deliver its product with the utmost haste. Implicitly, that speed and accuracy was the new medium’s claim to business legitimacy. Buying online, the argument went, is just as safe as catalog ordering or buying from a storefront. The advantages lay in product selection and ease of delivery.
The Bubble Bursts?
Much of the infamous “bubble burst” in the early part of the 00’s grew from increased public and investor skepticism that the ecommerce marketplace could become a complete mirror of the real-world economy. Several high profile online store busts (remember pets.com?) helped fuel this new cynicism, leading to the dot.com semi-collapse.
But the modern ecommerce marketplace has instead given over increasing space to smaller, more flexible companies that are routinely based in someone’s home or operated as a sideline business enterprise. These smaller ecommerce businesses are sometimes reliant on third party fulfillment service companies, which manage their delivery and logistics needs for them. Such order fulfillment companies even provide warehousing and storage support, as well as tracking and customer service options.