CLOSE-UP: PERSPECTIVE; The rise of the Net will not lead to the death of shopping

By STEFANO HATFIELD, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 13 December 1996 12:00AM

Holiday stories. Sorry. In the Quincy area of south Boston, the Shaw’s supermarket chain (owned by our very own Sainsbury’s) has abandoned its online shopping service due to lack of consumer interest. A fascinating fact from my Patriot Ledger on two levels: first, it had such a service to abandon and, second, the fact the words ‘consumer interest’ were used in connection with the Internet.

Holiday stories. Sorry. In the Quincy area of south Boston, the Shaw’s

supermarket chain (owned by our very own Sainsbury’s) has abandoned its

online shopping service due to lack of consumer interest. A fascinating

fact from my Patriot Ledger on two levels: first, it had such a service

to abandon and, second, the fact the words ‘consumer interest’ were used

in connection with the Internet.



I could have told Shaw’s so. Nothing would stop my American relatives

and their friends from paying personal homage in the aisles of the great

supermarket cathedrals. In suburban America, to shop really is to live.

Shopping is family outing, exercise and socialising all in one. The

nearby South Shore Plaza is, allegedly, the largest shopping mall on the

east coast - a pretty big boast. It is an awesome place, especially the

car park. Ask the average consumer whether he would rather be at home

shopping on the Net, and you run the risk of mall rage. It’s as if the

right to drive one’s car to the mall is enshrined in the American

Constitution.



But on the 60-ish TV channels available in Quincy, the screen is full of

Internet provider ads and magazine shows called CyberCafe, so somebody

must be interested. I found out exactly who this was when I went to stay

with media friends in New York. It’s not just that every restaurant and

shop has a Website, it’s simply a given that you’re on the Net, you

understand it, and you don’t stop to question what it means. In fact,

bizarrely, there was some talk about the Net saving American society

because it allowed users to start communicating again.



Watching the New York CyberCafe programme (whatever it was called), I

saw just how prevalent the Net really is. Small business after small

business, from a Hebridean knitwear manufacturer to a seller of Elvis

memorabilia, paid tribute to what the Net had done for them. I wanted to

book a slot on the show and then join the training course they had all

attended. Then, the credits rolled and I realised I’d been watching a

whole programme sponsored by an Internet provider that ran training

courses.



Once back home in London, I caught Cyberspace, a late-night Sunday slot

on LWT about - you guessed. One report was a visit to the American Net

agency behind the Levi’s Website. The operation looked phenomenal. As it

worked on images from the UK ‘washroom’ commercial, it provided a

British context for all these musings. The Net is already big business

for specialist agencies. It will also be big business for those ad

agencies that invest seriously in understanding what their clients want.

But it doesn’t mean the death of anything. There will always be people

like me and mine who want to feel and smell a copy of GQ, and who enjoy

traipsing around Sainsbury’s.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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