Home shopping gets easier

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A NEW service unveiled yesterday will enable shoppers to avoid crowded supermarkets by ordering goods by remote control.

Customers at Safeway will soon be able to compile their shopping lists on portable electronic organisers before picking up their groceries ready for collection. The palm-sized device is being marketed at people who want to shop from home without needing to go online.

Mike Winch, Safeway's information technology director, said: "We have provided a personalised system which can be used with the minimum of fuss. The idea is for the consumer to communicate with us from any place at any time. All you need is a phone socket to plug it into."

The scheme - called Easi-Orders - will be tested in Basingstoke, Hampshire, from February and will be introduced by other Safeway shops if successful. The chain is giving away the devices during the trial but has yet to decide if it will charge for them should the service be expanded.

With 9 million Britons already connected to the Internet, shopping from home is already a rapidly expanding business for supermarkets and other shops. A recent survey by Dell Computer and Louis Harris & Associates found 43 per cent of British computer owners were planning to buy something online this Christmas.

Safeway said it is aiming to create a scheme which combines Internet technology with a personalised system. Colin Smith, its chief executive, said: "We can now deliver an intelligent, unique and portable shopping service."

Noel Rees, retail industry director at IBM, which has helped to develop the project, said: "This combines the power of network computing with easy-to-use handheld devices."