Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Click, click, click, boom!

September 18, 2015

Online shopping has made my life pretty awesome. Seriously, how did we cope with just bricks and mortar? It’s hard to remember a life where I *couldn’t* order my weekly grocery shop while simultaneously bidding for an old canoe on eBay.

I decided to find out who was responsible for this portal of retail heaven to the world. Turns out, it was a chap called Michael from Welwyn, and he was quite the inventor…

Michael Aldrich, an IT industry stalwart, is the Brit who lit the fuse for the online shopping boom, which continues to grip the nation.

OK, so his 1980 invention the ‘Teleputer’ may not have caught on, but the fusion of TV, early days PC, and some networking gizmos does sound pretty sweet.

During his 38-year career, he was CEO of international computing firm Redifion and also advised the Thatcher Government on IT policy – no mean feat.

Arguably, though – the pinnacle of his career would come about in 1979. Before these heady days of HTTP, he connected a television to a ‘multi-user transaction processing computer’ (snappy name, eh?) with a telephone line. ‘Teleshopping’ would eventually evolve into the e-commerce and online shopping we know today.

The system was mostly for business-to-business sales, but it did lead to a number of significant world firsts with applications in loan finance, credit ratings and more. For instance, in 1981 Aldrich installed the world’s first business-to-business on-line shopping system at Thomson Holidays.

When the Internet as we know it went live in the 90s, everything was migrated over to the World Wide Web, setting off a chain reaction which would radically change the way we shop over the next two decades.

So business-to-business shopping became all the rage, but it didn’t filter down to us mere mortals until later on. Think back to the days of slow PCs and awful dial-up and you realise why. Dark days…

But the arrival of the web set off a chain reaction which would eventually reshape how as consumers we approach shopping.

The big push would come from our American cousins over the pond; in 1992 Charles Stack opened the world’s first online book store, and Jeff Bezos followed in 1994 with Amazon. By 1996, there was eBay, and Tesco launched its first online shopping service over here.

If Aldrich hadn’t got businesses used to the idea of buying and selling things through a screen – would online shopping have taken hold as quickly as it did?

Fast-forward 20 years and ordering your weekly shop on a tablet during the Coronation Street adverts in just a few taps and swipes is commonplace.

In the UK alone, it’s estimated we’ll spend £52.25bn online in 2015. That’s an awful lot of second-hand gardening equipment for my shed…

Cyber Monday this year is set to be the biggest yet. Forget the carnage of Black Friday, just drop that shiny new plasma TV and an Xbox in your digital shopping basket and your way from the comfort of your home. No need to get caught up in a scrum down the shopping centre!

By the way, Brits spent £810 million in 2014. Perhaps we might top a billion this year?

With all that cash, it is no surprise that digital payment is fast becoming a hotspot for innovation and new tech in the UK.

Just take a look at London’s thriving fintech scene, where you find a number of nimble start-ups vying to take a chunk out of the established financial service players.

Two UK fintech start-ups – TransferWise and Funding Circle – have reached ‘unicorn’ status already (a value of $1bn) and more are set to follow.

It begs the question: could this be the sector to produce the UK’s first true ‘tech giant’ which will rival the likes of Amazon and eBay? I like to think it might.

So what’s next? Well, the Internet of Everything is set to transform the high street with the worlds of retail and online colliding in way in which they never have done before.

If you wanted to see what the future of retail actually looks like you can go and experience itself, without the need for building a time machine or speaking to Michael J Fox.

Head down to Shoreditch (transport via fixed gear bike, optional) to the Cisco-powered Dandy Lab, which is demonstrates exactly the Internet of Everything will change the way you shop. Happy retailing!

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