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What Is eTail and Why Does It Matter?

The other day I had a conversation with a friend who is also in the retail app development business. He insisted that eTail and eCommerce were basically the same. He argued that eTail is not something on its own, but just a different way to refer to eCommerce. 

His comments surprised me because I’m the type of person who thinks that if a word exists, it probably refers to something specific. I’ve always thought that eTail is a concept on its own. As a result, I decided to search for the underlying characteristics of eTail. I found out that, although the lines are in fact pretty blurry between eTail and eCommerce, there do seem to be some important differences. 

For anyone who works with apps, understanding these differences is essential. That’s why this post addresses what eTail is and discusses some of its differences regarding eCommerce. If you are thinking about developing an eCommerce app, clarifying these concepts can help your online retail business in one way or another.

eTail and eCommerce Definitions

eTail refers to specific activities related to the selling of retail products, and services, via the Internet. This might sound like a pretty narrow definition, and in fact, it is. eTail is something very specific. It does not involve other activities commonly and erroneously associated with eCommerce.

eCommerce refers to a broader set of activities that include but are not limited to: selling retail products on the internet (eTail), electronic financial services like online transfers or transactions, management of online supply chains, mobile commerce (mCommerce), internet marketing, and data collection systems.

It would be accurate to say that eTail focuses specifically on the B2C segment. Meanwhile, eCommerce, being broader, encompasses B2C, B2B, C2C, and C2B markets.

The Differences Between eTail and eCommerce

As you might have noticed by now, there are reasons to assume that eTail and eCommerce are the same, even though we now know they aren’t. This can most likely be explained because eTail is a subset of eCommerce. In other words, eTail belongs to the broader set of activities referred to as eCommerce, but the opposite is not always valid. That is, not all eCommerce activities are restricted to selling goods via the internet. Although we use eTail and eCommerce interchangeably, it is not accurate. 

Selling products or services online. Online activities like: selling products or services, transfers and transactions, supply chain management, inventory management, mobile commerce (mCommerce), internet marketing, and data collection systems.
Serves B2C markets.Serves B2C, B2B, C2C, and C2B markets.
Specific concept.Broad concept.


A couple of examples are useful to understand these differences better. One could say that the U.S. has the world’s biggest eTail market players. Just think of companies like Amazon or Walmart. They are some of the world’s biggest retailers that sell their products online. However, these companies are not specifically known for being in the eCommerce segment; although this label is sometimes erroneously used. 

In the case of China, we could say that it has one of the world’s biggest eCommerce companies. Think of WeChat. It might not be as important for the eTail industry as Amazon, but it has a deeper penetration of other non-retail related activities that fall under the category of eCommerce. Online financial services, transactions, and payment methods, which belong to the eCommerce category, are deeply embedded in it.

Why eTail Matters

A practical way to think about why eTail matters is the following. Imagine that you are developing an eCommerce app for your business, but you don’t have the resources to implement all the functionalities you’d like. You contact your development partner and share your concerns. Your development partner tells you there is nothing to be worried about. Thanks to the Agile development process that will most likely be used to develop your app, like the one we use at Koombea, you can develop a less ambitious initial product. This allows you to add functionalities to your app as you go along. 

If you follow this path, you will first need to develop an initial product, known as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). This will include only the necessary and most basic functionalities for your online retail business. A great development partner for your retail app should have experience in designing and scaling your MVP.

In a strict sense, your MVP would still be an eCommerce app, but the label ‘eTail app’ would describe it better. Once you start adding other functionalities and your app starts becoming more complex, then you can accurately refer to it as an eCommerce app. The chart below portrays how we at Koombea see the evolution of an eCommerce app from its initial eTail stage. 


eTail Apps

As you might have seen by now, eTail is a very important component of eCommerce. However, it is not all there is to it. Other important services and features are what transform a simple eTail app into a powerful eCommerce app. 

Having a simple eTail app is not bad at all. It ultimately depends on the needs of your business and on your capabilities to develop it any further. It is alright to play it safe and start with an eTail MVP and then escalate towards more complex functionalities. 

If you are thinking about developing an eTail app for your business, or if you already have one and are considering turning it into a full eCommerce solution, then you might want to contact Koombea. We have over 12 years of experience building all sorts of apps, and retail is one of the industries we have most experience serving. 

It would be a pleasure to help your business grow with the use of our proven app development and design methodologies. Our team is prepared to help you decide strategically about the best choices to grow in a sustainable way. Don’t think twice!

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