Here comes the online bride

JUNE BRIDES, delay your weddings, writes Peter Koenig. Debenhams is close to confirming it will have the country's first interactive wedding service up and running this autumn.

The department store chain currently posts the gift lists of 30,000 couples a year on its internet website. Families and friends can click on to the lists of individual couples and find out what in the way of tea cups, bed linen, and oyster forks they still require.

Purchases, however, have to be settled in person or over the phone initially, but from this autumn they can be settled over the net.

The new service, announced at the company's interim results press conference on 20 April, is being timed to coincide with the passage of the Government's e-commerce bill. The Government intends to promote e-commerce in all its manifestations with the new law.

It also intends to clear away the obstacles to making the purchases of goods over the internet more common. Currently, for example, electronic signatures used on the net are not legally binding. When the e-commerce bill becomes law they will be.

The timing of Debenhams' interactive wedding gift list service is also down to discussions between Debenhams and a web design firm called USWeb/CKS.

The California-based company began as a web designer. But internet creative, business, and tekkie types - designers, strategists and developers - share little in common.

USWeb/CKS has developed a multi-disciplinary approach to setting up interactive websites. Its discussions with Debenhams are aimed at dovetailing the company's wedding service across its 90 stores and online.

Indeed, the advent of Debenhams' interactive wedding gift service could prove a watershed in British e-commerce. Already, USWeb/CKS's customers include Dixons, Halifax, and BBC Worldwide. From this autumn, the sophistication of interactive websites and the meshing of these websites with broader marketing strategies, is expected to grow.

Speaking at Debenhams' interim results press conference, chief executive Terry Green said: "The internet is going to be a very important part of our life in the next few years, and digital TV is coming down the track. You need fulfillment."