There have been buyers and sellers online as long as there has been an internet, but the rise of e-businesses generally began in the late 20th century with the exponential growth of eBay. Instead of being a complicated process meant only for computer experts, running a business on eBay afforded regular people a chance to create their own company with very little initial investment. Since that first example of e-commerce brought the idea of online shopping to the masses, e-businesses have grown every year, with the types of businesses available limited only by their creators' imaginations.
E-Commerce Examples and Brick-and-Mortar
Online business is so popular that many brick-and-mortar companies feel a need to create their own virtual departments. Large retailers such as Walmart, high-end marketers like Godiva and even specialty retailers like Stash Tea all have their own online presence. Virtual stores are important additions to the local economy as well, with over 25 percent of all small businesses having a sales website.
Types of E-Business That Thrive Online
If the internet is one thing, it's large. There is room for whatever anyone invents and wants to put online. The infinite amount of space available combined with the relatively low cost of setting up an e-commerce website make it perfect for the types of e-business that appeal to a relatively small amount of people. Want to create a store that sells only Halloween costumes for dogs? You'll likely never make a profit opening this store locally, but the uncounted number of shoppers online guarantees enough interested people to make this business feasible. This is just as true for hair bows, cupcake accessories or chainmaille crafting supplies. If you're interested in it, the odds are that enough other people are interested too, and that can make it a profitable business.
The Service Industry Online
It's been said that the American economy has switched from a manufacturing base to a service industry. Whether that's true or not, service businesses are making fortunes online in every aspect of life. Uber and Lyft offer their version of taxis in cities across the country. Shipt and other companies do your grocery shopping for you and deliver the food to your door. Millions of hungry, busy people take advantage of the dozens of premade boxed meals they can order to their home, and those eager for a personalized touch in their lives will order from hundreds of different monthly subscription box services, from romance novels to international candy.
Convenience is the common thread with all of these e-businesses, with savvy entrepreneurs offering to do the small tasks that others don't feel they have time to do themselves. Building on the mindset of the old-time handyman, the online service business is really big business.
Virtual Products and Imaginary Services
Perhaps the most iconic of e-businesses are those selling nothing at all – at least, nothing you can get your hands on. Those who play online games, from World of Warcraft to The Sims, are familiar with experts selling virtual goods to make their virtual characters look and act better. Virtual designers can make a full-time income creating products for popular games.
Some of the most profitable virtual sellers are those who provide services to others who are looking to create their own e-business. Website designers, SEO specialists, dropship companies and branding pros all offer services to would-be entrepreneurs who'd rather pay someone else than spend the thousands of hours it takes to become an expert on all these facets of running an online business. Owners of the most successful e-business companies know that it's cheaper to hire an expert than spend valuable time on a skill you don't have. Inventive freelancers are taking advantage of this and turning the gig economy into a full-time business.
Victoria Bailey has owned and operated businesses for 25 years, including an award-winning gourmet restaurant and a rare bookstore. She spent time as a corporate training manager in the third-largest restaurant chain in its niche, but her first love will always be small and independent businesses. Bailey has written for USAToday, Coldwell Banker, and various restaurant magazines, and is the ghostwriter for a nationally-known food safety training guru.