Forget eBay and Amazon. It was a Gateshead pensioner who started the online shopping revolution
New documentary will show how online shopping industry was launched in 1984 from Jane Snowball’s armchair
If there is such a thing as an online shopping hall of fame, you won’t find Jane Snowball placed next to Amazon’s Jeffrey P Bezos or billionaire eBay founder Pierre Morad Omidyar. That could be about to change, because the Gateshead pensioner has been revealed as an unlikely retail trail-blazer who kicked off the online shopping revolution.
A new documentary will tomorrow show how the online shopping industry, now worth £87bn a year, was launched in May 1984 from Mrs Snowball’s armchair on the Leam Lane estate with an order for eggs, margarine and cornflakes. The industry that now sees a staggering 1.3 billion online shopping deliveries a year and has transformed the face of the high street started with a 72-year-old using her television to shop “online” from home – seven years before the internet was commercially available.
The latest episode of Robert Peston Goes Shopping reveals how Mrs Snowball was part of a pioneering local council initiative designed to help the elderly and infirm. It used a ground-breaking Videotex online-shopping system to create a shopping list of basic items through her television. That list of items was sent via her phone line to a local Tesco store, which were then picked off the shelf, delivered to her door and paid for in cash. Reportedly, Mrs Snowball picked up the system in 15 minutes and thought the invention was “wonderful”.
The inventor, Michael Aldrich, said “it changed the world of shopping” and made “shopping functional and stripped out all the theatre”. He added: “Mrs Snowball never saw a computer, Mrs Snowball saw a television. Her connection to the television was a remote with an additional button that said ‘phone’. What effectively we did was take a domestic television and turn it into a computer terminal. It was 1984 and we were doing online shopping. It was amazing and she loved it.”
Her eldest son, Alan Snowball, 76, now lives in Co Durham and told The Independent on Sunday: “My mother was a very bright woman and well versed in the technology behind the system, but she wouldn’t want any praise. She did it for the sake of doing it and really just enjoyed the process, as in those days you never really knew what you were going to get at the front door.”
Mrs Snowball was one of the first silver-surfers and died in 1995. Today, she would have had a choice of half a dozen online grocers, while Tesco alone now receives up to half a million food orders online every week.
This week Morrisons, the last major supermarket without an online delivery business, announced on Friday that its new delivery service, backed by a £200m investment, would go live in January. Meanwhile, a new industry study from the Institute of Grocery Distribution released last Thursday predicts a continued shift toward online food shopping, with a 126 per cent increase in sales over the next five years bringing sales to £14.6bn.
Liam Neeson's Downton dreams
Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage
Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour
Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason
Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama
- 2 Scottish independence: What you shouldn't tweet about if you want to avoid jail today
- 3 Scottish independence: Five reasons Salmond is secretly hoping for a 'No' vote
- 4 Isis plan to 'behead random member of the public' in Sydney thwarted by Australian police
- 5 Scottish independence: Andy Murray backs Yes campaign in eleventh hour decision
Thailand beach murders: Thai PM suggests 'attractive' female tourists cannot expect to be safe wearing bikinis
Scottish independence referendum live: Latest news as Scotland votes Yes or No
Scottish independence: Final opinion polls show undecided voters could swing result either way
Scottish independence: Almost half of No voters have felt 'personally threatened' by the Yes campaign
Isis plan to 'behead random member of the public' in Sydney thwarted by Australian police
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...
£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...
£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...
£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...