12 innovations around Christmas - 7: Online shopping

Online shopping is so commonplace now that it’s hard for most of us to remember there was life without it. But, ‘tis true. And while online shopping hasn’t been with us for long, it has profoundly impacted our lives, our world, and is an invention rivalling even the likes of Edison’s lightbulb. Perhaps this writer is biased. Moving on.

We have a few key players to thank for online retail. The first being Michael Aldrich. In 1979, he invented the very first digital transaction system by connecting a modified television set to a computer that could process real-time transactions using a telephone line. His invention made him the pioneer of online shopping and set the stage for further innovations that enable online life as we know it now.

Next up to thank is Tim Berners-Lee, who created the first World Wide Web server and browser in 1990 which opened for commercial use the following year. In 1994 we saw the developments of online banking, Netscape’s SSL v2 for secure data transfer and when Pizza Hut went live. Amazon and EBay both launched in 1995, and things didn’t stop there. Even today the landscape of online retail continues to expand and evolve.

Now I ask you, is there a time that we could be more thankful to Aldrich and Bernes-Lee than at the craziest time of the year, Christmas? When car parks are full and checkouts line with disgruntled shoppers, we can retreat to our lounge rooms and make purchases from the magical, shiny portal of our laptops. You can make it through your whole Christmas list without even leaving your couch.

Peruse the delights of Paris, New York or the hand-made goods of a local artisan. Compare prices, research product reviews and with international shops at your fingertips, make unique and celebrated choices for your Secret Santa. Need some re fuelling while you shop? Head to the website for Pizza Hut, who (somewhat controversially) boast of the first ever online purchase, and get dinner delivered without interrupting your shopping momentum.

Not everyone is on board with online shopping, however. Some people worry about sharing payment details online. Others perhaps don’t understand ‘how it all works’ so they avoid it altogether. They simply don’t trust the internet, or the idea of buying something they haven’t seen firsthand.

Book shops have also been hit pretty hard. The combination of online shopping and the invention of digital books saw book stores closing globally.

In our move to digital shopping some would argue we’re losing valuable face-to-face contact and social interaction. Although others may add this to the benefits list. How much does the retail small talk really add value to the shopping experience?

But overall, few could deny that this invention has been an incredible boost to businesses, big and small. Offering business owners and customers alike a world-wide market, 24/7 availability without overtime and access to a greater selection of styles and products.

Christmas shopping no longer poses the same threat that it once did. Dread the supermarket lines no more and take advantage of the online world this Christmas, ordering weekly groceries and Christmas goods straight to your door. Waiting for Santa to fill those stockings has never been this stress-free. Although, I don’t know how he’ll be able to sneak in now, if we’re all sitting up late shopping on our tablets…Hmm.

18 December 2016

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