What is an Online Company Store?

Learn about the history and impact of an online company store and branded merchandise throughout the years.

Online company stores are a simple way for companies and organizations to distribute branded merchandise and other items to various audiences, like employees and customers. However, long before the emergence of the internet, people found a way to buy and distribute branded merchandise. In fact, company stores and branded merchandise have a rich history dating back hundreds of years. Here is a look at what an online company store is, who can use it, and how it’s changed over the years.

What is an Online Company Store?

What is an Online Company Store?

Online company stores are virtual stores where employees and other authorized users can purchase branded merchandise – from apparel to stationery and everything in between.

Who Can Use an Online Company Store?

Online company stores can be designed to support multiple audiences, from employees and customers to distributors and partners. You can stock them with your company’s branded merchandise and create your storefront and payment options.

What is the History of Online Company Stores and Branded Merchandise?

Promotional items and other branded merchandise have been around for hundreds of years. Since 1789, the type, usage, and way these items are purchased have evolved. Here is a timeline of important dates in the history of online company stores and promotional merchandise.

  • After George Washington was elected in 1789, commemorative buttons were distributed. This was one of the first examples of modern-day branded merchandise.
  • During the early 19th century, some local shops throughout the United States sold advertising calendars, rulers, and wooden carvings. This is one of the earliest examples of monetizing branded merchandise.
  • The first person considered to be the “originator” of the promotional item industry, Jasper Meek, convinced a local shoe store to supply book bags imprinted with their name to nearby schools in Ohio in the late 1890s.
  • Henry Beach quickly began competing with Jasper Meek when he learned of his book bags. Soon, both men printed and sold items like fans, aprons, hats, and buggy whips with names and logos.
  • The Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) was founded in 1904 by 12 manufacturers of promotional items, including Beach and Meek.
  • Promotional items began to grow in popularity during the 1950s. However, items were limited and difficult to order.
  • Product catalogs were on the rise in the 1980s, which made it easier for companies to buy products to brand as their own. The catalogs listed items available for branding purposes. Marketers or other representatives would select items from these catalogs, fill out a form with their contact and order information, and mail it in.
  • During the 1980s to 1990s, branded merchandise was generally explicitly used for sales purposes. The peak season for promotional items was typically around the holidays in December.
  • In the early 1990s, new “Catalogue Groups” began offering a unique promotional item catalog to a limited group of distributor companies.
  • After the World Wide Web was established, online marketplaces emerged and how everyone (including companies) shopped changed.
  • The first catalog-based e-Commerce site launched in 1997. People could now buy promotional items what would later become online company stores.
  • By 2008, almost every major distributor in the PPAI had a website with their available promotional products. Individual companies began creating their online company stores outside of distributors in this era as well.
  • Today, online company stores can be accessed by employees and customers, with a variety of payment options and usages.

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From catalogs to online company stores, people have found a way to create, order, and distribute branded merchandise. If you’re ready to create your online company store, contact us today.

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