Retail can be head-spinningly strange. Black Friday (which didn’t even exist in Ireland a decade ago) has now become virtually indistinguishable from Cyber Monday (which didn’t even exist anywhere 15 years ago). Some Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales start on a Saturday while other Black Friday events – that is what we are told we should call such things – go on for a full week before and a full week after the Friday billed as black. Some retailers have been celebrating Black Friday for a whole month.
We have an English inventor by the name of Michael Aldrich to thank for online shopping or at least for starting the ball rolling. He developed the earliest ecommerce platform in 1979 using a system that allowed people to communicate with retailers through their televisions with a thing called Videotex. It took five years before the first transaction was completed by a 72-year-old grandmother called Jane Snowball from Gateshead who used her television remote control to order margarine, cornflakes and eggs from her local Tesco. After she placed her order with the Videotex people, it was phoned in to the shop after which her breakfast of champions was delivered to her home.
It was a pretty humble start and viewed as a social service which might be used by older people or people without the means to get to shops. No one could possibly have imagined that, in fewer than 40 years, global ecommerce would be worth more than $4 trillion each year, a number which is growing fast,
The French Minitel system leapt on the idea with alacrity. It used a Videotex terminal machine accessed through telephone lines and through the 1980s and early 1990s connected millions of users to a computing network but its success was short-lived and was seen off by Tim Berner’s Lee’s far more accessible world wide web, invented as the 1990s dawned.
By 1994 the ecommerce snowball was rolling down the hill in…