Basic E-commerce Definitions

E-commerce has developed over the past 25 years into an extremely important sales channel that has become both technically and economically complex. Here we explain the requirements, possibilities and most efficient solutions for your success in e-business.

History & Definition of E-Commerce2

E-commerce as an expression became known in Germany in the 90s - initially it meant the Sale of goods and services via the Internet. Previously, there was already electronic commerce in the USA via the online service Compuserve. In Germany, services were sold via earlier forms of T-Online, the so-called Screen text (btx).

Closely related to the concept of e-commerce is the so-called electronic business or digital business. This refers to any digital connection between sellers and buyers. Basically, this also includes EDI, the electronic data exchange in the context of transaction processes, which has become more and more widespread in business between companies since the 80s.

E-commerce can be divided, for example, by the type of actors:

  • B2C: Business to consumer when retailers sell to consumers.  
  • B2B: Business to business when it comes to business relationships between companies, i.e. between manufacturers (e.g. at different production stages) or between manufacturers and wholesalers/dealers, but also for the relationship between wholesale and retail. 
  • D2C: Direct to Consumer, when a manufacturer or service provider sells directly to consumers using electronic support. 

One can certainly differentiate this classification even further - integrate the trade of consumers among themselves or public bodies, i.e. the administration, etc. In the main, however, companies – if they do not primarily work for the public sector – focus on the above three categories.

In addition, one aspect of e-commerce has become more and more relevant in recent years: Electronic marketplaces. The biggest one is certainly Amazon. Companies can set up products, whose data is to maintain the Shop and part of the logistics infrastructure in order to sell Goods and services.

E-Commerce Software

In the early days of the commercial Internet, websites and online shops were programmed manually. Initially, there were content management systems (CMS) that made content easier to maintain and manage. From the mid-90s, the first software for the development and Operation of online shops came on the market. In particular, the Intershop software developed in Jena should be mentioned here. Unlike CMS, Shop systems – today, for example, shopware, Spryker, commerce tools or Shopify - have to cover a wide range of functionalities. This starts with a product database, the consideration of availabilities, the integrability of various search and configuration options, possibilities for the integration of bulk orders and favorite lists in B2B commerce, shopping cart functionalities, payment mechanisms, customer databases, returns functionalities and numerous interfaces to the most diverse systems.

Product databases

If not quite a few products are to be sold, data for them must necessarily be managed via a database. There are f

  • Texts – Titles, headings, product short and long descriptions, sales pitches, etc.
  • Attribute values such as colors, sizes, weights, shapes, imprints of technical parameters (e.g. number of USB-C ports),
  • Assets such as product photos, ambience or action photos, dimensional drawings, videos, operating instructions, certificates and much more
  • Inventory data, which informs whether a product is available and how long the delivery period is, if any.

Products are usually assigned to Product categories due to their nature (e.g. shirts, T-shirts, trousers), for which category pages are usually created elsewhere in the e-commerce software - either automatically or manually. The products of the category are then automatically shown. Added category texts and photos, which are usually the search engine optimization (SEO) can then be still.

Product Search

Customers do not like to browse categories. For online shops with a slightly larger product scope, in most cases the product search is used first - search terms are entered into a search mask. For the operator of the online shop, it is extremely important at this point to show the most suitable results first. Special tools such as Elasticsearch or FACT Finder are now being used for this purpose. It configures the weight of text and attribute fields for the search – for example, hits in the headline should always be rated higher than in product long texts. In addition to the pure result lists, Filter structures are usually also built up. For example, buyers who were looking for a "chino" can filter by gender, color or size. In addition, mechanisms are required with which the products can be sorted by price, rating, popularity or availability and/or and/or filtered, for example.

Shopping cart functionalities

If a buyer has found a product, he usually has to put it in a shopping cart in order to add an order address in further steps, agree to the terms and conditions and data protection regulations and continue the Check-out process. Order quantities should be adjustable in the shopping cart itself. For private customers, an express check-out without the prior need for registration is extremely important, business customers should have the opportunity to load product lists into the shopping cart (pro tip: A window that can be opened with a click on the start page works wonders in the B2B context). Otherwise, the following applies: The fewer clicks are necessary to finally trigger the ordering process, the lower the drop-out. In other words, every additional click increases the probability that a purchase process will be canceled. Therefore, the payment functionalities of PayPal and Amazon Pay have a beneficial effect on the conversation rate. Then the customer no longer has to enter his address, and there are fewer steps to complete the purchase.

Payment functions

Many customers – especially in Germany – prefer to buy on Invoice. This way you are sure that you have received the goods and can check them before you pay. What pleases the buyer, the seller is sorry for – possible payment defaults and associated expenses are a deterrent. Therefore, in addition to prepayment, cash on delivery and PayPal also Credit card payment and possibly other payment mechanisms such as Klarna< span data-contrast="auto">, Amazon Pay or direct bank transfer are helpful to reduce the dropout. The customer should find his favorite payment method.


Anyone who sells physical goods online must expect returns. So that these can be assigned correctly and the data collection does not also represent an additional cost factor, it is helpful to have Returns registered in advance in the online shop system. In this way, return labels can be created, which make it easy to automatically assign the data after receipt of the returned goods.


With 15 products on one website, it might still be ok to maintain the product data manually. At 100 it will be difficult, at 500 it will be a real challenge and, moreover, downright impossible. Product data usually comes via pre-systems in online shops. PIM systems – Product Information Management - like Akeneo are an excellent solution for this. However, these alone are hardly sufficient. The number of assets desired by customers (photos, videos, etc.) is constantly increasing and so DAM systems – digital asset management – like the TESSA DAM are needed to use the webshops via interface with product data and assets.

Product data is not alone. Even with 15 products and several hundred orders per day, the manual transfer and processing of orders represents a serious burden and an efficiency disadvantage. Therefore, for larger order quantities, there are usually EDI connections to an ERP system. And if it is not a fully automatic solution, at least semi-automatic solutions via middleware or CSV are required, otherwise the risk of transmission errors is too great.

Other tools and elements in e-commerce

The requirements in e-commerce are quite different for manufacturers and retailers: Manufacturers must place their product data with as many online retailers as possible and ensure that they can be imported easily and quickly. With online retailers, the situation is the other way around: Online shops make particularly good sales when they present a large product range with the best product data in their online shop. That's why you should make it as easy as possible for manufacturers to integrate their product data and assets and to update them easily. There are now tools for both ways to optimize the B2B relationship - System2System, so the live connection of manufacturer and dealer systems via API would be the optimum here.

In addition, there are many smaller solutions that enrich the online sales. Whether these are Configurators, with which furniture is put together in the desired form or Live consulting systems - there are a lot of helpful tools or Assets such as BIM objects (3D objects and many other data in a file for building information management) that enrich the sales. Not to forget the process of how Drop-Shipment as track transactions in which a manufacturer supplies the customers of the Online retailer directly.