The future is here - in your armchair

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The Independent Online
Sitting at home feeling peckish? Don't bother opening the refrigerator, simply fax your local home-shopping service and the night's meal will soon be at your door. Worried about your burgeoning overdraft? Just pick up the phone and arrange an extension. Fancy the new Spice Girls CD or John Grisham thriller? Don't bother leaving the house if you don't want to, simply punch in a few keys on your home PC, with its free Internet access, sit back and wait for the goodies to be delivered.

This may sound like an image of the future but, according to a number of developments reported in The Independent today, they could soon become commonplace.

And not just for a handful of techno-nerds but for everybody - a home- shopping service which supplies groceries provided by Sainsbury's is raising pounds 2m to expand its services across London.

Also, a survey from Datamonitor predicts that a third of the UK population will conduct their banking affairs by telephone by 2001.

BT is considering offering free local calls in exchange for higher line- rental charges in a move which could lead to a huge increase in usage of the Internet.

The decision would remove fears of big telephone bills, which have been a major stumbling-block to Internet usage in this country.

The developments form part of an armchair revolution which could see Britain lead the way in the provision of home-delivered products and services.

Internet shopping is already more popular here than in any other country outside the United States.

Tesco and Sainsbury's are testing home-delivery services and an announcement from Safeway is expected soon.

In telephone banking, First Direct is to open a new call centre in Glasgow to cope with increased demand. Other banks such as Barclays and Citibank are promoting their tele-banking services heavily.

Not that we will all become transformed into a nation of bug-eyed couch potatoes who never venture out of the house. The new technology will simply enable us to cut out the chores and spend more time doing the things we enjoy.

Flanagan's, which has been operating its Supermarket Direct Service in South London since 1995, says its 5,000 customers are not all high-earning, dual-income yuppies.

Most are ordinary families prepared to pay a small charge to avoid the grind of the Saturday morning grocery run. "It's not an exclusive, expensive service for the rich," Adrian Flanagan said. "We are a common or garden supermarket for Mr and Mrs Average."