In an effort to further the development of e-commerce, the federal Electronic Signatures Act (2000) established uniform national standards for determining the circumstances under which contracts and notifications in electronic form are legally valid.

Description of E-Commerce

Legal standards were also specified regarding the use of an electronic signature ("an electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record"), but the law did not specify technological standards for implementing the act.

The act gave electronic signatures a legal standing similar to that of paper signatures, allowing contracts and other agreements, such as those establishing a loan or brokerage account, to be signed on line.Once consumers' worries eased about on-line credit card purchases, e-commerce grew rapidly in the late 1990s. In 1998 on-line retail ("e-tail") sales were $7.2 billion, double the amount in 1997.

On-line retail ordering represented 15% of nonstore sales (which included catalogs, television sales, and direct sales) in 1998, but this constituted only 1% of total retail revenues that year. Books are the most popular on-line product order-with over half of Web shoppers ordering books (one on-line bookseller,, which started in 1995, had revenues of $610 million in 1998)-followed by software, audio compact discs, and personal computers.

Other on-line commerce includes trading of stocks, purchases of airline tickets and groceries, and participation in auctions.