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Origins of online shopping examined

17 September 2013 - 10:09 by Graham Miller

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Ahead of a new BBC series on the history of post-war retail in the UK, hosted by Robert Peston, BBC News has reported on the origins of shopping online, which began in an environment that not many would expect.

In 1984, the then 72 year old Jane Snowball became one of the first people to remotely place an order for her groceries, although unlike modern consumers, she did not use a dedicated computer terminal. Instead her television had been augmented with technology by the council to allow her to create a shopping list which was then fulfilled by the local branch of Tesco.

The idea was that elderly people would be able to remain relatively independent without having to head all the way to a bricks and mortar outlet and experts believe that this was one of the first examples of fixed line connectivity being used to enable retail activities in the home.

The technology in question was called Videotex and, like modern internet connectivity, it used Mrs Snowball's phone line to help her order her groceries. Its creator, Michael Aldrich, said that its implementation was a turning point for retail, both in the UK and internationally.

Although it was still almost a decade before the World Wide Web would be created, this experiment was a foreshadowing of the major shift towards safe shopping online that the market would take over the next three decades.

With the global industry for e-commerce hitting an annual valuation of over  117 billion in 2013, the humble beginnings are all the more intriguing.

One of the benefits of modern e-commerce is that it is accessible to everyone, irrespective of the generation into which they fall, with easy to use sites and services ensuring no one is left out of the revolution.