Rebecca Armstrong: Do we really want personally tailored online shopping?

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The Independent Online

It seems as though it's no longer enough, when shopping online, to chuck your prawns and frozen pizzas into a virtual basket before beating a silent retreat to the cyber checkout.

All this logging on, buying up and bogging off is too straightforward for the latest e-shopping start-ups. It comes just when many of us have finally got to grips with doing a weekly shop online (14 per cent of people get their groceries online now, compared to 4 per cent in 2007, according to a survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers earlier this year), say, or sourcing stuff we've spotted in magazine shoots that can only be bought from stores with a single branch on Jupiter. Now a series of high-end and high-concept sites have popped up to make online life a lot more baroque.

Suppose you need to buy a present for someone. Sod socks or bath salts from boots.com – quintessentiallygifts.com, the online gift service from the eponymous cash-tastic concierge company, proudly boasts that its staff will "hand pick the world's finest, rarest and most exquisite designer gifts". Launched last week, it claims to be the "future of personal shopping" – if that future is expensive, ostentatious and possibly a bit unnecessary. Unless, that is, you can't think of what to buy Uncle Oligarch for his birthday after the brace of swans that went down so well last year.

Alternatively, you could visit shopow.com, another internet newbie, which, its creators explain, is "a shopping search engine that allows you to share shopping tips with friends". Stuffed with reviews, discounts and product information, it's a neat idea – but is also an extra layer of faff to go through if you're just in the market for some cat coasters for your nan or little something for your best mate – and, given you can invite Facebook and Twitter friends into your shopping circle, you might want to be careful about what you buy through it or big up on it lest you ruin the element of surprise.

Not complicated enough for you? Just wait – before the end of the year, shopcade.com will be with us. It's a "Facebook application where you shop from user-curated stores built by your friends and others, earning cash together", according to founder Nathalie Gaveau. Eh? Apparently, members list items for sale from a variety of brands and if their Facebook friends buy via their pages, there's some sort of cash incentive ... which sounds strangely similar to Tupperware parties of yore.

It's all rather intriguing but is it likely to make internet shopping any easier? Since the main reason why 80 per cent of us buy online is convenience (again, according to PwC), it will be interesting to see whether hand-picked deluxe delights, retail-based status updates and "crowd-shopping" will help or hinder us in the hi-tech trek to the tills.

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