INTERACTIVE: BEHIND THE HYPE/SHOPPING ON THE NET - Is Internet shopping the panacea for all consumer woes? - Gordon MacMillan checks out Internet shopping and learns that it’s not for the poor, hungry or impatient

The future of shopping is online. Most people already know this because hundreds of newspapers and magazines have told them so.

The future of shopping is online. Most people already know this

because hundreds of newspapers and magazines have told them so.



But until researching this article, I had never bought as much as a

banana online. I had stayed away from online shopping, mainly because of

security fears over the safety of my credit card number.



I’m not alone in my anxiety. A recent BMRB International survey revealed

that 47 per cent of online users are concerned about card details being

intercepted and misused.



Now I have shopped and paid up, I’m just waiting for my credit card

company to send me a bill for pounds 5,000.



But, as an Internet shopper, I get to join an elite club, made up of

only 5 per cent of Internet users, according to BMRB - another

indication that a lot of people are either unconvinced by, or

uninterested in, the future of shopping.



My first hurdle is the discovery that ordering food online is not

possible.



This is terrible news.



I dream about buying food online. In fact, it is my one and only

recurring Internet dream.



But unless you are lucky enough to live in Ealing, West London, where

Tesco is trialling an online shopping scheme, it remains just that - a

dream. Tesco was, though, my first stop.



Tesco (www.Tesco.co.uk)



The Tesco site is clean and easy to navigate. It offers a limited

product range including wine, beer and flowers.



I opted for wine, which you must buy by the case, so if you just want

the odd bottle you’ll still have to nip round the corner to Oddbins.



Tesco carries an extensive list of wines, priced from pounds 4 upwards.

You work through the list, clicking on your selections and the quantity

you want.



I put together a case of whites and reds for pounds 53.88, plus pounds

4.25 for delivery, on Friday and it was delivered the following

Wednesday.



The service is easy to use and the turnaround isn’t bad. But you really

have to know what you are buying. Once you do, it is very handy. I’m

hooked.



Interflora (at barclaysquare)



Flowers always seemed one of the most straightforward and appropriate

goods to sell online. This site is admirably simple - you get pictures

of your flowers, with a shopping basket system that adds up your order

as you progress.



It was quick to use, but the selection was limited and it was expensive.

A small, tied bouquet cost pounds 21.50 with a pounds 2.99 delivery

charge on top - almost pounds 25 for a very basic bunch. If recent

memory serves, I got a much better deal when I picked up the phone. No

chance of me returning here.



Innovations (at barclaysquare)



This site was a must, fascinated as I am by the Innovations

catalogue.



It’s just like the home page blurb says: ’Browse the catalogue. When you

see something you wish to buy, click on the ’add to order’ button.



When you have finished browsing, click on the ’review/ send order’

button or the ’order form’ button.’



I had my heart set on a 7-in-1 jar and can opener, described as an

’ingenious multi-use appliance’.



No luck, though. I tried three times, but each time I selected the

product and clicked it into my basket at the checkout, it told me I had

not selected anything. It looks like it’s back to the catalogue for

me.



Argos (at barclaysquare)



This is disappointing. The user is presented with a list of categories

at the front of the Internet store. You select one category, such as

Sport/Leisure, and this offers a short list of products. To see more

products, you have to continue clicking on the ’more’ button.



I very quickly lost interest. Sure, you get to see a picture of the

product, but it really makes you work for the privilege.



In the end, I ordered a Wenger Swiss Army knife, which set me back

pounds 6.95 plus another pounds 3.90 for delivery.



The knife turned up four days later. It’s no wonder Argos has complained

that the Net isn’t working for it.



The Internet Book Shop (www.bookshop.co.uk)



For my last two shops, I went for a book and a CD. First to iBS, which

calls itself the biggest online book shop in the world.



I liked this. To give my shop some relevance, I hit the search button

and typed in Douglas Coupland under ’author’ in the search area. Up came

everything he had written, including the book I was looking for -

Microserfs.



Ordering was child’s play. You search, you find, you click, you key in

your credit card number and address details and the 48-hour delivery

promise actually turns out to be true.



The only drawback is that a pounds 6 paperback costs pounds 9, but with

912,000 books in stock, it beats Waterstone’s any day.



The Internet Music and Video shop (www.musicshop.co.uk)



Like iBS, iMS is nicely put together. It has areas detailing new

releases, CDs of the month and chart albums - which is great because it

draws stuff to your attention.



iMS offers users more than one search route - you can search by artist,

album name or band.



I shopped there only a week after the release of the Chemical Brothers’

album, Dig Your Own Hole, and was pleased to see that it was there,

under ’new releases’.



I thought at first that I had struck gold because the album was priced

at pounds 10.49 plus pounds 1.49 delivery. But it only takes a few

seconds to work out that VAT is listed separately - a cruel trick.



It ended up costing me pounds 14.08, which is still reasonable, but it

wasn’t until four days later that I actually had the CD in my hand -

which is really four days too long for me. See you at Tower Records.