Business and the Internet: What Is E-Commerce?

E-commerce is the buying and selling of goods online. Learn if a career in e-commerce may suit you.

portrait of Ellery Weil
by Ellery Weil

Published September 2, 2022

Edited by Amelia Buckley
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Business and the Internet: What Is E-Commerce?
Image Credit: Thomas Barwick / DigitalVision / Getty Images


For those who love online shopping, it's no surprise that e-commerce is a popular industry growing yearly. E-commerce is the business of buying and selling things online, whether as a small retailer or a major company. The goods and services under the umbrella of e-commerce can be anything from commissioning a work of art to buying a pair of socks. If you're conducting your transaction online, it counts as e-commerce.

For anyone who wants to work in the business field, knowledge of e-commerce may be helpful. Many of the largest companies in the U.S., including retailers like Amazon and marketplaces like eBay, rely on e-commerce as the backbone of their business. As online shopping takes up a larger share of the U.S. economy, e-commerce will become increasingly important.

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Ready to start your journey?

How Does E-Commerce Work?

E-commerce is a great way to start your own small business. E-commerce sellers come from all backgrounds, and anyone who shops online is a potential customer. E-commerce sellers usually have their own platform, like a personal website, or sell through a profile on an e-commerce platform.

One of the most appealing things about popular e-commerce platforms, including Amazon, Etsy, and eBay, is that they are easy to use for new sellers starting their e-commerce business. They also enable safe and secure transactions between buyers and sellers.

E-commerce businesses are considered legitimate, and sellers who make above a certain threshold must pay U.S. taxes on their earnings.

Why Choose E-Commerce?

Why Do Sellers Choose E-Commerce?

  • Retailers can sell their products without the overhead costs of a physical store.
  • E-commerce allows sellers to market their products all over the world instead of focusing on their local area.
  • Because overhead costs are lower, e-commerce provides opportunities for businesses that specialize in specific niche products.
  • E-commerce-based businesses are relatively easy to set up, meaning sellers can start advertising and selling their products quickly.
  • Supplementing a brick-and-mortar business with e-commerce can help retailers expand their reach.

Why Do Buyers Choose E-Commerce?

  • Shopping online can be done from the convenience of your own home.
  • The wide variety of the world of online shopping gives buyers many more options than their local area would provide.
  • Easy-to-use search functions mean e-commerce allows users to find a highly specific product very quickly.
  • E-commerce can be linked directly to your credit or debit card or online payment services like PayPal to make transactions easier.

Careers in E-Commerce

E-commerce is a wide field with various job offerings, most of which pay comfortable salaries. Many people think of e-commerce merchant as the most obvious job in e-commerce, as these are the people who sell things online. However, many support jobs are needed in e-commerce, including technical professionals to build and manage e-commerce websites and marketers to promote online businesses.

Working in e-commerce is often a popular career path for graduates in business. Sellers and e-commerce company executives commonly hold degrees from undergraduate or master's-level business programs. However, graduates in technical fields, like computer science, may also find exciting careers in the e-commerce industry.

E-Commerce Merchant

Anyone who sells a good or service online is an e-commerce merchant. E-commerce merchants can range from people who sell unwanted household items on eBay as a means of decluttering to world-renowned fashion labels who exclusively sell their clothing online. This career path can be lucrative, but e-commerce merchants face a highly competitive market.

Average Annual Salary (July 2022)
$73,000

Career Outlook
Limited data available

Degree Level
High school diploma or above


Computer Programmer

Large e-commerce companies need skilled programmers to keep their websites running smoothly and ensure that financial transactions are handled safely and efficiently. The programming skills needed to work in e-commerce are often similar to the knowledge necessary to work on other sites, making this a good job for recent computer science graduates.

Median Annual Salary (May 2021)
$93,000

Career Outlook
-10% projected job growth from 2020-2030

Degree Level
Undergraduate


Marketing Manager

Like any other business, e-commerce businesses rely on marketing and advertising to get the word out to buyers about their products. For those who want to combine a creative flair with an eye for business, working in marketing for e-commerce companies and helping them to design online ads can be a great career choice.

Median Annual Salary (May 2021)
$133,380

Career Outlook
10% projected job growth from 2020-2030

Degree Level
Undergraduate

To learn more about working in e-commerce, check out our guide on how to become an e-commerce merchant.

Is E-Commerce Right for Me?

Many personal factors impact whether e-commerce is the right career for you. If you enjoy the fusion of tech and business and want a fast-paced career in a large sector of the retail market, e-commerce may be the place for you. Graduates in marketing, business, and computer science may be particularly suited to jobs in e-commerce.

However, if you are not interested in retail or are looking for a job with a relaxed, steady pace, unlike the seasonal cycles of the retail market, e-commerce may not be the right job for you.

Pros and Cons of Working in E-Commerce

Pros of Working in E-Commerce

  • Low startup costs
  • Sector is already a large share of the retail market and growing quickly
  • For those looking for a tech career, some of the largest companies in the U.S. are in the e-commerce sector
  • You do not necessarily need a degree or specialized skills to get started as an e-commerce merchant

Cons of Working in E-Commerce

  • The market for e-commerce merchants is highly saturated and highly competitive
  • E-commerce, like any retail business, can be fast-moving and highly stressful, with narrow profit margins
  • The growing e-commerce sector can hurt local business and the environment

The Future of E-Commerce

E-commerce is a fast-growing portion of the retail market and predicted to remain so into the next several years at least. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 14.3% of total retail sales in the U.S. were conducted via e-commerce in the first quarter of 2022, and that number is predicted o rise even higher.

The growth of e-commerce has many in the brick-and-mortar retail industry concerned about the future of their businesses, and many of them are switching to partially or entirely online formats. Additionally, the heavy carbon footprint of shipping and the disposable nature of cheap goods raise concern about the environmental impact of sending products around the world to customers' doors.

However, online retail's rising market share is good news for anyone considering making their career in e-commerce, as it will only grow more in the short-term at least.

Frequently Asked Questions About E-Commerce

What is an e-commerce merchant?

An e-commerce merchant is anyone who sells goods or services online. What the good or service is does not matter, nor does the means through which you sell the goods or services. A tutor who offers their services through video chat and is paid online is an e-commerce merchant, as is someone who sells collectibles on eBay or someone who makes clothing and sells it through a personal website.

There are larger and smaller e-commerce merchants and websites and services suited for beginner e-commerce merchants who are just getting started.

Can I work in e-commerce without a degree?

There are many jobs in or related to e-commerce that don't require a degree. Through websites like Amazon and eBay, anyone can become an e-commerce merchant by selling things online, with no degree required.

For tech careers in e-commerce, like working as a developer for an e-commerce company, you will most likely need a degree, usually in computer science or a related field. Alternatively, if your degree is in another field, many e-commerce tech jobs are accessible for those who have completed a bootcamp program in coding or another tech skill.

How much can I make in e-commerce?

How much money you can make in e-commerce varies significantly. Some e-commerce merchants make thousands of dollars a month or more selling products online while others pursue online selling as a side hobby to bring in extra spending money. The vast majority of e-commerce merchants will not be making that much money, as it is a highly competitive market with a large number of sellers all over the country and the world.

Those working on the technical side of e-commerce can expect a salary similar to other coders and software developers in different tech fields, which will generally be in the mid-five figures or higher.

What are the biggest e-commerce companies?

The largest e-commerce company in the world is Amazon, which in 2022 was valued at over 1.6 trillion dollars. Other world-leading e-commerce companies include eBay and Alibaba, among others.

Amazon and eBay are often used as places new sellers get their start in e-commerce, as it is easy to make a profile on these sites and put items up for sale. However, there are a huge range of e-commerce businesses all over the world. For those aspiring to work in e-commerce, it's important to pay attention to a wide variety of companies, not just the biggest names.

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