Nov 19, 20188 min read

What is e-commerce?


The term e-commerce is so widespread these days it’s worth taking two minutes to consider what it actually means. Ready? Here we go.

Online dictionaries give an interesting variety of definitions for the term ”e-commerce”.


Some short ones:

“The business of buying and selling goods and services on the internet”

– Cambridge Dictionary (

“Business that is transacted by transferring data electronically, especially over the Internet” (

“Activities that relate to the buying and selling of goods and services over the Internet”

– Learner’s Dictionary (


A longer one:

“Business conducted through the use of computers, telephones, fax machines, barcode readers, credit cards, automated teller machines (ATM) or other electronic appliances (whether or not using the internet) without the exchange of paper-based documents. It includes activities such as procurement, order entry, transaction processing, payment, authentication and non-repudiation, inventory control, order fulfillment, and customer support. When a buyer pays with a bank card swiped through a magnetic-stripe-reader, he or she is participating in e-commerce.”

Business Dictionary (


And a confusing one:

“Commerce conducted via the Internet”

– Merriam Webster (<)

It sounds okay until you look up their definition of “commerce”:

“The exchange or buying and selling of commodities on a large scale involving transportation from place to place”

(A question to Merriam Webster: What if you start selling a digital course titled “How to stay outdated in life and business”? Wouldn’t that be considered e-commerce – assuming someone wants to buy it?)


So… what is e-commerce?

We would put it this way:

E-commerce is the exchange of digital or physical products or services between individuals, businesses or organizations via an electronic medium involving digital payment processes.

The term e-commerce also refers to this whole industry, as with a presentation titled “The state of e-commerce 2018” or “The fastest growing giants in e-commerce 2018”.


Digging deeper: The 6 types of e-commerce

There are six types of e-commerce to be aware of:


Business-to-consumer (B2C)

Consumer-to-consumer (C2C)

Consumer-to-business (C2B)

Business-to-administration (B2A)

Consumer-to-administration (C2A)

Let’s look into each one – and highlight a few examples.


Business-to-business e-commerce (B2B)

Wholesalers, suppliers, consultants and other businesses selling to other businesses belong to this space. A couple of examples:

Salesforce is one of the largest providers of CRM for businesses:

Catering company Cajsas kök delivers food to kickoffs, conferences and so on:


Business-to-consumer e-commerce (B2C)

Online stores, malls, personal coaches, insurance companies or ticket offices fit here. A few examples:

Mobile app and web service Kry diagnoses health problems in kids and grown-ups via online video and prescribes medicine if needed:

Online educational service Högskoleprovskurser prepares people to succeed at the Swedish equivalent of the SAT test:

Type and Tell is a service helping people fulfill their dream of publishing a book:

Happy Po sells a product for everyone who can’t stand using toilet paper when they visit the loo:

And not to forget: streaming services like Spotify and Netflix


Consumer-to-consumer e-commerce (C2C)

Ordinary people exchanging services or products with each other. A couple of examples:

Airbnb of course.

Ebay of course again.


Consumer-to-business e-commerce (C2B)

This category involves people signing up for affiliate programs, completing short “gigs”, participating in surveys or making their private assets available – in exchange for money from companies.

Using the online service Adobe Stock you can have your own pictures sold to companies.

On Fiverr people around the world make themselves available for short gigs. If you want Indonesian fishermen holding up a sign with the text “Congratulations on your 40th birthday, dear customer” on a sunset video that you can send to that customer, this is the place to go.


Business-to-administration e-commerce (B2A)

School equipment companies fall into this category, and so do any companies selling products or services to governmental agencies.


Consumer-to-administration e-commerce (C2A)

When you pay fees for governmental services online, for example your passport, you are completing a C2A transaction.