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The History of The Virtual Mall

According to the Michael Aldrich Archive, online shopping or the Virtual Mall was invented and pioneered by Michael Aldrich in the UK. Aldrich describes his invention as an act of rebellion – a Boston Tea Party moment.  He wrote “Every Friday night we had loaded the children into an estate car at our home in Colgate and journeyed to the supermarket for the weekly shop. And then I thought –this is crazy! Why don’t they deliver it to me?” The rationale for the system was very simple. Transportation costs were going up and telecom costs were coming down. It would soon be more sensible to buy online than travel to a physical shop provided you did not wish to touch, smell, taste, hear or try your prospective purchase.

And so, in 1979 he connected a modified domestic television via a telephone line to a real-time multi-user transaction processing computer and the Virtual Mall was born. The new technology was called Videotex. In 1980 be began marketing the system.  Systems were installed in the UK, Ireland and Spain.  He began marketing the system to big corporations so they could connect their agents, distributors and customers to their corporate information systems for direction shopping. They focused on big corporations stressing idea that it would provide them competitive advantage. Before long the idea became know as Business to Business [B2B] online shopping.

Applications in holiday travel, vehicle sales, fiance and credit ratings boomed on this system. These were migrated to the Internet in the 1990s and some of Aldrich’s systems were still in use in 2000.

Here is the timeline of the Virtual Mall:

  • September 1979 was the first public demonstration of online shopping.
  • March 1980 was the launch of what was later called online shopping, e-commerce and e-business.
  • March 1981 the first B2B, Thomson Holidays, went live:
  • May 1984 the world’s first online home shopper, Mrs Jane Snowball, used the Gateshead SIS/Tesco system to buy groceries.