“America now browses with browsers, window shopping with Windows,” CNN reported in 1998 about retail giants like Macy’s, JCPenney and Borders bookstore creating websites to sell their goods to customers.
At the time, selling clothing and books on the web was a novelty. Brick-and-mortar retailers saw the web as an opportunity to reach tech-savvy customers in a new way and decided to test it out. Amazon was four years old, having launched in Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie’s garage in Seattle as an online bookseller.
“Did you know there were 100 types and styles of Levi’s and Docker’s?” CNN reported at the time. “On screen, mix-and-match guidance for the style-impared web surfer.”
Twenty-two years later, online shopping has transformed the retail industry. Amazon is arguably the most powerful company in America, while powerhouse chains that struggled to make the transition online like JCPenney and Sears have plunged into bankruptcy in recent years. And Borders? Amazon drove it out of business.
Although e-commerce still only represents around 12% of US retail sales, online sales are growing faster than brick-and-mortar purchases. Retailers are racing to expand their online operations to keep pace with demand.
Retail jobs at most physical stores have declined, while they are growing at fulfillment centers and in transportation jobs. Online shopping holiday Cyber Monday has become bigger than Black Friday, and investors judge retailers each quarter on how much online sales climb.
Retail analysts expect the coronavirus pandemic to accelerate the appeal of online shopping as more consumers likely stay home and socially distance in the coming years. US e-commerce sales grew 49% last month, according to Adobe Analytics.
As online shopping continues to grow, it will reshape jobs and the future of malls and storefronts across America.