In the next week, I will be embarking on my 5th holiday shopping season with Portlight in the eCommerce industry. It has been a wild ride full of excitement and surprises with every holiday season presenting new challenges that take us to the brink of exhaustion.

As I look back on the past 4 years of holiday madness, I am intrigued by the growth and trends in the eCommerce industry that have accompanied my experiences as an entrepreneur. In just 5 short years, the eCommerce industry has transformed from another option for shopping to a leading strategy for retailers to further capture their customer market.

If you’re at all interested in the rise of eCommerce since 2011, follow me as I reflect on my holiday experiences and then highlight 5 major changes in the market have have made online shopping a beast to be reckoned with.

2011

In 2011, I was a senior in college at Quinnipiac University getting ready to graduate in the upcoming December of 2011. At the time that the holiday shopping season kicks off – around Black Friday – it is also time for college students to begin preparing for final exams.

And that was exactly how I spent my month of December as a college senior…splitting time between studying for final exams and fulfilling hundreds of orders to customers around the United States. It was all a blur. It all led to us finishing our first year as a business with over $1 million dollars in sales.

2012

In 2012, Portlight had its first holiday season in our apartment in Orlando, Florida with our first full-time team. We had spent the year listing thousands of products preparing for the 1 month sprint and it was even more than we could have expected.

Orders were flying in at a pace that our 10 person team could hardly handle. On top of that, the infamous Cyber Monday began to catch fire with mass consumers burying us in a pile of over 1,000 orders in one day. We made it through and closed the year with $2.5 million in sales.

2013

In 2013, we embarked upon the holiday season with a new business model in place and over 100,000 products available for sale on the Amazon Marketplace. I reflect on this holiday season and I call it “the year of all nighters.”

Because of the volume of orders that were coming in, we had not option but to stay ip all night while people were sleeping to attempt to catch up. While grueling at the time, it is an experience that taught me the meaning of grit. Our grit took us all the way to $4.9 million in sales.

2014

Just one short year ago, we had our first holiday season with an office and a team of over 60 people. Our available inventory was over 500,000 products and we had in-house software that made all of our systems and processes more efficient.

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But even that wasn’t enough. Consumers slightly changed their habits and decided that shopping shouldn’t be limited to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In the 2 and a half weeks in between Cyber Monday and Christmas, we experiences volumes the same, if not larger, than the Black Friday weekend.

Twas another grueling year, but it led us to reaching another all time high of $6.5 million in 2014 sales.

5 Key Changes in eCommerce in the past 5 Years

1. Consumer confidence increased

Since the great recession of 2009, consumer confidence has been increasing leading to more holiday shopping, both in stores and online. With increased holiday shopping budgets and more options on the Internet, consumers have been steadily increasing the amount of money that they spend online.

2. eCommerce comfortability

In 2011, shopping online was still new for most with millions of Americans worried about the safety of their personal information. Amazon, already 15 years old, was still expanding into new popular product categories like toys, baby products, and home goods to further bolster their marketplace. Also, Amazon Prime and other Free Shipping offers were just beginning to be launched to the public.

In the past 5 years, habits of online consumers have changed dramatically highlighted by a much greater sense of trust in handing over personal information to purchase goods online. With the increased trust followed significant growth in the industry year over year.

3. Mobile commerce

As the iPhone gained mass popularity in 2010, the most innovative retailers began to test new mobile initiatives to capture their in-store shoppers on their mobile phones.  Over the past 4 years, mobile shopping has grown into one of the major channels in which online shoppers browse and complete purchases because of the ease of use.

Today, every major online retailer has their own app to make the mobile shopping experience better than what a traditional web browser can offer. Four years ago, the thought of shopping on your phone was still just an idea.

4. Free shipping and FAST

When eCommerce began to gain popularity four years ago, the speed in which products could be shipped to the customer were no where near what they are today. In an effort to keep up with Amazon’s commitment to building fulfillment centers all over the United States, all online retailers have changed their policies to offer fast shipping at affordable rates.

The industry’s commitment to this new standard has made it so that shopping online is as effortless as going to the store. Hell! With Amazon Prime, you can now receive a product that you order within 24 hours for FREE!

5. The amount of retailers and products online

Finally, the eCommerce industry has significantly increased the number of products that are being offered online and the number of retailers that are pouring millions into catering to their shoppers through the Internet and mobile devices.

Since 2011, Walmart has been investing hundreds of millions of dollars into their eCommerce presence in an effort to catch up to the growing empire of Amazon after realizing the potential of the growing industry. It has now become the norm for retailers to support omni-channel strategies where they can reach their customers through the many channels of retail, i.e. in store, online, mobile, catalog, etc.

Long is the day of only being able to shop in stores and catalogs. Today, you can shop from anywhere and get anything you want within the matter of hours. And what’s better is that with comparison shopping tools on the Internet, prices have been driven down because of increased consumer intelligence.

Expect More Change

With new and innovative tech companies popping up everyday in the eCommerce space, expect there to be even more changes as we move through the next 5 years. As the millennial generation becomes one of the top spending groups in the country, expect to see eCommerce sales rise above traditional in store figures. It is an exciting time to be a part of the eCommerce industry as its national and worldwide presence makes a major impact on the way consumers think about shopping.