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First Online Home Shopping: 1984!

The first online home shopper, Mrs Jane Snowball, placed her first order in May of 1984.

Here’s a quick and entertaining bit of fun from the history vault. In May 1984, Mrs Jane Snowball became the world’s first online home shopper. She placed an order from her local Tesco supermarket.

The Gateshead (UK) Shopping Information Service, or SiS, was part of a scheme originally to save families the time and trouble of the weekly shopping trip. Rediffusion Computers (based in West Aukland, County Durham, UK; later ROCC) build the hardware and software, based on a system invented by Michael Aldrich in 1979.

Tesco was the first retailer to sign up, and on 1 April 1981, a microcomputer at a library linked with the microcomputer in Tesco’s Gateshead branch. Soon, the network extended to two more libraries and a facility that provides care for seniors and the disabled using a telephone exchange system to record the items ordered and send them to Tesco’s microcomputer.

Two more retailers signed up in 1983, Greggs the Bakers and Lloyds Pharmacy. As the system lacked an interactive link to retailers, however, the focus changed to helping disabled and housebound people get their groceries and other supplies.

When it finally launched in 1984, the SiS used an £80,000 Videotex system, which had to be physically installed in people’s homes. It worked through a modified TV set and remote control, also made by Rediffusion. There were 1,350 available products through the system, which could be delivered from the retailer to the shopper within hours of placing an order.

The scheme ran until the late ‘90s, when the Internet rendered it obsolete. Read all about it here.

As I always joke, there is nothing new in technology. The first mobile phone appeared in the 1920s, or was it the 1930s? Music streaming was created in 1881. Two-way videophone? 1930s of course!

Clearly none of these solutions stood the test of time, or even became widely used in their time. But today, it all looks to be different. The biggest change is that now, rather than having solutions that take up half your living room, and are outside the financial reach of most, they are now just click away on your phone.