E-commerce vs ecommerce: how is it spelled?

/ 3 min read
Jack Delaney

There's something haunting the Paperform Content team. We can't eat. We can't sleep. We can barely even muster the energy to binge Ted Lasso, and it's an utterly delightful program.

Like the Dementors in Harry Potter, this dark shadow looms over our every move. And we aren't alone marketers , online retailers, and even Wikipedia has grappled with this slippery foe.

But enough is enough. It's time to face it once and for all. To swallow our pride and finally decide whether it's ecommerce or e-commerce.

📚 TL;DR: The AP Style Guide defines "e-commerce" as the proper spelling. Case closed? Not quite. Many leading ecommerce brands use "ecommerce", and the AP Style Guide also spells "email" with no hyphen, so the answer isn't so clear cut. We've come to the conclusion that it should be spelled "ecommerce" (which we explain below), but if you want to stick to AP style, use "e-commerce."

The many different spell ecommerce

We all know what ecommerce is. We use ecommerce stores every day to order coffee beans or rent a movie or get Thai milk tea delivered yet again. So why doesn't anyone know how to spell it?

Seriously, a quick Google search of ecommerce (or Ecommerce or e-commerce or even "ecomm") brings up a dizzying array of results that raise more questions than answers.

These are just the variations of ecommerce we found on the first page of Google:

  1. Ecommerce
  2. E-commerce
  3. eCommerce
  4. E-Commerce
  5. E-commerce
  6. ECommerce

Six different ways of spelling ecommerce. How is it that we’ve sent billionaires into space and have cars that can drive themselves, but we can’t work out whether to use a hyphen, capitalization, or a cute lower-case ‘e’?

As a company that’s been guilty of our own fair share of shenanigans with the term, there are two questions to ask (a) what’s causing this confusion? and (b) how on earth do you properly spell ecommerce?

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What’s causing this confusion?

You can blame email. Kinda. A similar phenomenon occurred when electronic mail (aka email) was invented. Email is now spelled “email”, but it took 30 years and a whole bunch of different spelling variations to arrive at that point.

It wasn’t until 2011 that the Associated Press stylebook, the de facto style guide for the majority of the world’s news media, announced that the preferred spelling was “email” — a change from the previous “e-mail”.

Just as email refers to electronic mail, ecommerce refers to electronic commerce. Both are new words to reflect digital evolutions of pre-existing terms, so it makes sense that they would suffer the same growing pains.

So, following that principle, we should spell it ecommerce, right? Right? Well, not according to AP:

“AP uses hyphenated e- for generic terms such as e-commerce and e-strategies… For company names, use their preference: eBay.”

This hyphenation theorem is backed up by leading dictionaries. Cambridge, Oxford, Collins, Merriam-Webster and Macmillan dictionaries all agree: e-commerce is the way to go.

So case closed, right? Not quite. There are still a few nagging concerns.

Firstly, what makes e-commerce more “generic” than email? Surely the 4.2 trillion dollars it contributed in 2020 alone means it deserves its own moniker? It’s own conclusive spelling? Secondly, who decided on this whole hyphen caper and why weren’t ecommerce websites consulted?

Huge brands like Shopify, WordPress, BigCommerce and Amazon use ecommerce. Neglecting to listen to the opinion of these platforms would be like if Martin Scorsese offered to teach you how to direct a movie, and you said, “No thanks, Marty. I’ve got it covered.”

The question then becomes: should we trust AP and the astute folks at the Oxford Dictionary? Or should we band behind these ecommerce solutions and follow them to this new horizon? We believe the latter.

How to spell ecommerce: the final verdict

Ecommerce is here to stay. With online shopping expected to account for 21% of all global sales by 2024, it’s high time we stopped treating it as a second-class citizen.

If we’re to follow the precedent set by email, ecommerce deserves more than a tacked on -e. It deserves to be freed from this lowercase, uppercase, hyphenated nightmare. To be given a cleaner; more professional and consistent look.

Above all, it deserves to be spelled in the correct way.

And the correct spelling is ecommerce.

Ecommerce.


About the author
Jack Delaney
Content Manager
Jack Delaney is content manager at Paperform and managing editor of the Paperform blog. When he's not working, Jack is trying to keep up with his eight-month old daughter, and his giant beagle, Bosch.

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