The digital transformation of online shopping – Michael Aldrich and the social good – BBC interview

Michael Aldrich developed the first online shopping system, he was an innovator who not only realised digital transformation – but did it in a way that was for a social good. Michael had a long association with the University of Brighton – our library carries his name. He was generous with his time (and archives) as well as his money, and I am very glad I met him.

He is celebrated as a great innovator in a BBC documentary Invented in the South East – airing on Friday 23rd and I was interviewed for that program. Factory Films, the documentary makers kindly gave me access to the out takes – the full interview is here



I was also recently contacted Antonella Ciancio of Global Finance magazine, she was researching the history of e-commerce and asked me to tell her about Micheal Aldrich. Here is what she made of my thoughts:

#3 E-commerce | Global Finance Magazine


Ten years before Jeff Bezos left a New York hedge fund to start selling books over the Internet out of his garage in a Seattle suburb, Jane Snowball, a 72-year-old grandmother in the northeastern English city of Gateshead typed on her television a grocery list to send to a local Tesco supermarket. Snowball had broken her hip and couldn’t walk to the store. One of the most innovative ideas of the last 30 years was born out of a necessity.

This was the world’s first “teleshopping” system, an invention of the late Michael Aldrich, a British entrepreneur and then CEO of Rediffusion Computers. In 1979, Aldrich envisioned a real-time transaction system to order groceries and have them delivered. He connected a domestic television to the store’s computer using Videotex technology via a telephone line.

“I remember [Aldrich] talking about the birth of e-commerce. He was walking his dog in the Sussex woodland and regretting the necessity of driving to the supermarket,” says Asher Rospigliosi, principal lecturer in e-business at the Business School of the University of Brighton, which keeps the Michael Aldrich Archive. “Michael followed his vision of home shopping through a ‘teleputer,’ a way of using the ordinary television as a computer; in the era when almost nobody had computers at home, he turned to the needs of the less able.”

Full article: #3 Ecommerce | Global Finance Magazine

A few years ago, Robert Peston made a documentary series for the BBC about shopping in Britain. As research for the episode on online shopping the BBC interviewed me and Kevin Turner (also from Brighton Business School) which led to this story:

Online shopping: The pensioner who pioneered a home shopping revolution – BBC News

By Denise Winterman and Jon Kelly BBC News Magazine 16 September 2013

People spend billions each year shopping online, but few know it was a grandmother from Gateshead who pioneered it from her living room.It was an order for margarine, cornflakes and eggs that paved the way for an industry now estimated to be worth £117.6bn ($186.1bn) to the UK economy alone.Grandmother Jane Snowball, 72, sat down in an armchair in her Gateshead home in May 1984, picked up a television remote control and used it to order the groceries from her local supermarket.She was part of a council initiative to help the elderly. What she – and everyone else with her at the time – didn’t realise was that her simple shopping list was arguably the world’s first home online shop….

“It’s significant because of its influence rather than its direct impact,” says Asher Rospigliosi, senior lecturer in e-business and management information systems at the Brighton Business School. “If you only have a few customers it’s extra labour for not much extra profit.”

Aldrich went on to become an information technology adviser to Margaret Thatcher. Tesco became one of the first retailers in the UK to offer a home online shopping service. Mrs Snowball was recognised by Gateshead Council for the part she played in the ground-breaking initiative in a ceremony in 2009.

But no-one at the time knew the experiment would actually anticipate a transformation of shopping. Gateshead Council says it has has very few records of the experiment because it didn’t realise how significant it was at the time. It would be another 10 years before retailers would see the potential.

“It really was a momentous landmark,” says Rospigliosi.

Full article:  Online shopping: The pensioner who pioneered a home shopping revolution – BBC News

10 thoughts on “The digital transformation of online shopping – Michael Aldrich and the social good – BBC interview

  1. What was Michael Aldrich’s contribution to the digital transformation of online shopping, and how did it serve a social good? URL

  2. What motivated Michael Aldrich to develop the first online shopping system, and how did his vision cater to social good, particularly for people like Jane Snowball?
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  3. How is Michael Aldrich’s legacy preserved and honored at the University of Brighton, and what contributions did he make to the university community?
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  4. In what ways did Michael Aldrich’s invention of the teleshopping system in 1979 influence the future of e-commerce, and how was this pioneering idea documented in recent media and academic discussions?
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  5. What aspects of Michael Aldrich’s legacy do you believe are most significant in terms of his contributions to digital transformation and social good, particularly within the context of online shopping systems? Telkom University

  6. What aspects of Michael Aldrich’s legacy and contributions to digital transformation do you believe are most important to highlight in the BBC documentary “Invented in the South East”? Telkom University

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