Saturday, 10 January 2009

Shopping and the internet

Yesterday I made a comment about 'Iceland' purchasing some of the former Woolworths premises. This led me on to remark about the changes to our High Streets occasioned by the rapid growth of out-of-town superstores.

This particular process has happened for a while now but there is another potentially dramatic change that could change the face of shopping for ever. We are partway through the Communications Revolution something as world changing as the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions of previous centuries. Because it is still happening it is perhaps not so easy to realise the quite incredible changes it's bringing about. We are already seeing a substantial increase in internet shopping; with young people today growing up with personal computers their use to shop on line will surely increase. Apparently shopping is one of our main leisure activities (not sure if I can understand why!) so does that mean that folk will still want to walk into a 'bricks and mortar' shop to really enjoy that retail experience? It's an interesting question I feel. Where the internet really scores is when a retailer is trying to sell a very niche product, one that commands few and irregular sales in a small town where he/she is forking out high sums of money in overheads. Advertising that same product on the internet to a worldwide audience and operating from a spare room at home could lead to much greater viability (think EBay sellers for instance) Is this the way we are heading? Will half of our High Street shops become surplus to requirements? Even things like booking a holiday can, I'm told, be done on the net.

Thinking back to the 1960s when my first job was in a very large office (a Local Authority) we would be paid monthly by cheque and during the last couple of days of each month cashiers from the bank would be in their room in the building to cash said cheques if that was what staff members wanted! Seems very archaic now and many people no longer routinely go to their bank apart from perhaps drawing cash from the ATM machine. I'm just mentioning this as an example of one area where modern systems have already radically affected our lifestyles.

To some of my generation the thought of carrying out life's transactions in a non face-to-face way might seem something to dread. But this is becoming the trend. For myself I am fascinated by the whole subject of communication - one of the excuses for writing this blog - but wouldn't wish to become such a techno freak that the computer became a total substitute for face-to-face conversations. I guess the secret is to use modern technology with discretion and to maintain some sort of balance. Having said all this some people I'm sure will say that I could do with talking rather less!

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