If web shopping sounds like heaven to the retailers, just imagine how much fun it is for the shoppers: no fighting to park the car; no struggle against the will of public transport; no dragging unwilling spouses around boring shopping centres; no kids kicking over the displays.
If I could sit here and order a pizza from the Chelmsford Pizza Hut by hitting the button on an email message, then I would. Right now (as I happen to be hungry).
So hereís the demand, please some-one, supply it.
Of course, it isnít going to be that simple and, despite the hype, net connectivity in the home is still relatively scarce. However, Iíll hazard a guess that the demographics of those who do presently have home connectivity would tickle the fancy of any marketing manager this side of the West End.
Some of the larger consumer organisations are betting on "interactive TV" as being the medium through which the consumer can be persuaded to do their buying. Iím not so sure about this. Itís very reminiscent of the old argument of sterile games consoles v. real computers.
I believe that the sort of people who conceive these schemes are generally too far removed from the tech-nology to see that anything less than the full monty will fail to satisfy the consuming public in the long run.
The older generations may feel more comfortable with what amounts to a trumped- up TV remote control, but the computer- savvy kids have already started deserting their games consoles because the QWERTY keyboard holds no fears for them, and the possibilities of the "real thing" are endless.
I believe the same will happen with home shopping. Having tasted the breadth and freedom of deep cyberspace at school or at a well-connected friendís place, the kids will absolutely not put up with a glorified TV remote. The ŗ la carte Net will prevail over table díhŰte TV.
Of course, the Net and the web are all "here today" stuff too! Viable Interactive TV could be a long way off yet, and the investment required at the "head end" is vast and relatively inflexible.
I also suspect that things are moving much faster than anyone with a big investment in set top box projects and proprietary shopping ideas feared in their worst nightmares.
Aside from the Netís ability to deliver arcane products from faraway places with strange sounding names to minority audiences, which nevertheless scale up to become worthwhile when added up around the Net, consider another approach.
If you want to develop a simple business, such as fast food, in a given locality, then how would you do this in the old technology? Thatís right, an ad in the local paper.
A locally based information service is usually regarded as some-thing for the local council or library to manage. Well, I have another suggestion: a local IT products and services supplier can easily operate a com-mercial Internet facility with a leased line, and create a wholly local net with a thoroughly commercial undertone.
The circulation of the local paper here in Chelmsford is some 60k copies weekly. Thatís a pretty decent number in terms of a national Internet operator providing individual dial-up accounts (no one approaches that number...yet)
So if we believe our own soothes and accept that connectivity will be in just 10% of all homes by the year 2000, then that means that ChelmNET could be looking at 6k subscribers.
And these people can very viably expect to order goods and services from the locality and not get carried away with the fascination of ordering a bunch of flowers from a shop in Outer
Mongolia, adopting the present tendency to go to Net extremes, simply "because itís there".
There are now several Ďvirtual bookstoresí. So, if you were the owner of a string of bookshops, how would feel after browsing in Kennyís of Galway? 25,000 titles to choose from, all indexed by subject/author (a very nice presentation indeed, by the way). Available 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world.
I think Iíd be alarmed if not down-right panicked. Iíd start adding up the cost of operating 100 retail premises, employing 300 staff, and financing pretty much the same stock of books in each of them.
The last word goes to another of the Ireland OnLine lodgers, this time offering apartments to rentócomplete with hot and cold running Internet:
Are you visiting Galway and wish to maintain contact with the World?
Woodfield House in Moycullen, Co. Galway are offering Custom Built One Bedroom Apartments, fully fitted at reasonable rates.
Available at Woodfield House is a full office facility including P.C., Colour Monitor, Internet Connection, Fax and Printer. Moycullen is centrally located within 15 minutes drive from Galway City, Barna, Spiddal and Oughterard-and has two of the finest restaurants in Galway. These apartments are available from August. Contact Des McKane.
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org