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
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
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.