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01 September 2021 • Resources

How Michael Aldrich created online shopping: The origins of ecommerce

How Michael Aldrich created online shopping: The origins of ecommerce

Thinking of launching your own online retail business to sell your products to shoppers?

Wanting to get involved in the world of ecommerce is definitely understandable. Despite economic uncertainty worldwide, online shopping is still immensely popular. From small businesses to big corporations, there are all kinds of e-merchants to be found on the market today.

According to Statista, global retail ecommerce sales were around $5.21 trillion (USD) in 2021 and are expected to reach $8.1 trillion (USD) by 2026.

Success in ecommerce isn’t guaranteed, though. There are, after all, any number of reasons why even well-prepared entrepreneurs may find that their online store isn’t selling.

Nevertheless, to many merchants, the potential benefits of creating an online store far outweigh the risks. It doesn’t seem that ecommerce will be disappearing anytime soon, which is good news for shoppers and aspiring online retailers alike!

People all around the globe enjoy taking advantage of online shopping and everything it has to offer. It’s easy to see why: with a few clicks of the mouse, you can buy almost any product or service that you could possibly dream of!

Online shopping does much more than just make customers’ lives easier. It also lets them save money on different products by being able to look around for the best deal possible.

Shoppers can explore a wide range of online stores and products in a relatively short amount of time, all from the comfort of home. 

Even if their favorite store has a physical location that they can visit, they might not be able to find exactly what they’re trying to buy. When they make purchases online, they often have access to products that you might not otherwise encounter.

Though we tend to take buying products on the internet for granted now, it’s interesting to consider how we got to where we are today. This article examines the creator of online shopping, Michael Aldrich, and explores the story of how ecommerce got its start.

Why and how was ecommerce and online shopping invented? 

How teleshopping began in 1979

Though building an ecommerce website from scratch today is a breeze with WiziShop, there was a time when online stores weren’t around at all. It wasn’t until 1979 that the English inventor, innovator, and entrepreneur Michael Aldrich invented online shopping in the UK.

In 1979, while working for Redifon, a company that was focused on manufacturing minicomputers and developing systems for prestigious companies like Inland Revenue, British Aerospace, and Harrods, Michael Aldrich revolutionized the world by inventing online shopping. He accomplished this feat by connecting a modified domestic TV to a real-time transaction processing computer via a domestic telephone line. Aldrich saw the potential of videotex, technology with a simple menu-driven interface, as a universal communication medium akin to the telephone.

His innovative system not only opened closed corporate information systems to external correspondents but also paved the way for messaging (email) and information retrieval (later known as e-business). His visionary concepts, such as "impacts competitive trading position" and "using IT for competitive advantage," became widely adopted in the management consultancy industry of the 1980s and influenced the Business Process Reengineering strategies of the 1990s.

In March 1980, Michael Aldrich introduced a groundbreaking innovation known as Redifon's Office Revolution. This revolutionary concept marked a shift from the traditional in-house corporate computer information systems to a dynamic online network. With this development, consumers, customers, agents, distributors, suppliers, and service companies could connect to corporate systems in real-time, facilitating electronic business transactions.

Throughout the 1980s, Aldrich spearheaded the design, manufacturing, and installation of numerous online shopping systems, utilizing advanced videotex technology. These cutting-edge systems, equipped with voice response and handprint processing capabilities, were ahead of their time and predated major technological advancements like the internet, the World Wide Web, and personal computers.

Also in 1980, Aldrich's ingenuity led to what was called the "Teleputer," a device that combined a modified 14-inch color television with a powerful microprocessor and an array of features. Operating as a stand-alone color PC, the Teleputer provided a wide range of applications, connected to other computers via dial-up or leased lines. It became a pioneer of the home media center concept, laying the foundation for the fusion of computers, telecommunications, and television in a single device.

From 1980, Aldrich marketed his new system and sold it mostly for business-to-business (B2B) usage. Despite being initially conceived for mass-market home use, the Teleputer's production shifted towards business applications by removing the TV tuner. Its adaptability and cost-effectiveness made it a suitable choice for various business needs, leading to its successful adoption in corporate settings, with the world's first recorded B2B online shopping system was Thomson Holidays in 1981. Business-to-consumer (B2C) internet purchasing and transaction processing between consumers wasn't feasible until use of the internet and personal computers grew in the 1990s.

Aldrich redefined the new mass communications medium as being "participative," emphasizing interactivity and many-to-many communication. This notion diverged significantly from traditional definitions of mass communication and mass media. This forward-thinking concept served as a precursor to the social networking revolution on the internet, which would emerge 25 years later. Aldrich's visionary approach laid the groundwork for the dynamic and interactive online communities we experience today.

What was the first online home shopping purchase after it was invented in 1979?

In 1979, before the advent of online grocery shopping, a study conducted by the University of Newcastle and the grocery-store chain Tesco highlighted the difficulties faced by many, especially vulnerable groups, in accessing affordable goods from large stores. To address this challenge, Tesco and academics collaborated using Michael Aldrich's B2B system. Initially accessible through community centers and local libraries, they developed the Gateshead Shopping and Information Service, aka Gatehead SIS, to cater to the housebound.

Mrs Jane Snowball, a 72-year-old grandmother who couldn't travel due to a broken hip, became the world's first online shopper in 1984. With Aldrich's device installed in her home, she placed the first B2C online shopping order from Tesco using her TV remote. This milestone marked the beginning of ecommerce, driven by the necessity to support society's most vulnerable members. 

Over a decade before online shopping became widespread, the seeds of today's B2C commerce landscape were sown. Key concepts we now take for granted, like account login, online shopping baskets, and personalized shopping lists, were developed that day. Michael Aldrich, the visionary behind the experiment, highlighted the significance of their achievements, including efficient order processing and user-friendly interfaces.

Despite the experiment being overlooked for years, the impact of that momentous day would eventually become evident as online shopping evolved. Jane Snowball, the world's first online shopper, received posthumous recognition from Gateshead council in 2009, thanks to Aldrich's discovery of old press clippings and footage, ensuring her place in history. This pioneering event paved the way for the thriving digital commerce landscape we enjoy now.

Who was Michael Aldrich?

Born on August 22, 1941 in Welwyn Garden City in England, Aldrich became interested in computers and technology from a young age. He attended school at London’s Clapham College. Aldrich devoted a significant amount of time and attention to his studies, and his efforts later earned him a scholarship to the University of Hull.

At the University of Hull, he studied history. He met and eventually became engaged to Sandy Kay Hutchings. They got married in 1962 and went on to have four children and eight grandchildren.

Aldrich's cutting-edge achievements left an enduring impact on the world of technology and commerce. In the late 1970s, Aldrich revolutionized the way we shop by inventing online shopping, pioneering the concept of ecommerce that facilitates seamless transactions between consumers and businesses, as well as between businesses themselves. 

michael aldrich

Michael Aldrich, the creator of ecommerce

Michael Aldrich’s professional life

After graduating, Aldrich worked in the UK with Honeywell and Burroughs for 15 years. He spent time in numerous sales and marketing roles and later joined the Board of Redifon in 1977. Then, in 1984, he founded ROCC Computers after a management buy-out of Redifon/Rediffusion Computers. 

Aldrich was an innovator when it came to thinking of new and better ways to market products and services to the public. In addition, he was always examining sales data, aiming to develop improved solutions that offered even better results.

After inventing online shopping in 1979, Aldrich forever changed the way people shop. His ideas and system allowed internal networks to communicate with the outside world in ways that connected people more than they once thought possible. However, Aldrich was also involved in numerous other high-profile projects throughout his varied career.

Michael Aldrich’s other prominent IT projects

Between 1978 to 1998, Aldrich and his team worked on several important projects, most of which involved an extensive amount of time and effort. Due to the dedication of Aldrich and his team, a large number of these ventures were successful.

One of their activities included a system that read timesheets for the nationalized railroad company British Rail. Aldrich and his team were able to create a system for British Rail that read hand-printed timesheets automatically for more than 100,000 workers. This enabled the business to streamline their weekly payroll process and increase efficiency.

Aldrich completed one of his most noteworthy projects when he worked with Gazprom. He networked several computers and terminals for the business and provided support for their Siberian Gas Pipeline. Despite the project featuring all kinds of difficulties, it was eventually finished and was, during this period, the USSR’s most advanced IT system.

Aldrich earned a reputation for his commitment to each of his ventures. This caused many companies to want to enlist his help with their technology projects.

Michael Aldrich's organization memberships and awards

Throughout Aldrich's career, he was also made a member of various prestigious professional organizations and received numerous awards. For instance, in 1984, he became a Fellow of the British Computer Society, later becoming a Chartered Fellow in 2004.

Aldrich was made an Honorary Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals and was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters by the University of Brighton in 2002 for services to Information Technology. In addition, in 1987, he was given the distinction of being made a Freeman of the City of London. Aldrich was also a Founder Member of the Company of Information Technologists, a group made up of senior IT professionals.

The legacy of Michael Aldrich

Aldrich's pioneering invention of online shopping has revolutionized the way we buy and sell goods, leaving an indelible mark on modern commerce. His visionary concept, first demonstrated in 1979, laid the groundwork for the ecommerce ecosystem we now take for granted. By connecting technology and retail, Aldrich transformed the shopping experience, bridging geographical barriers and offering unparalleled convenience to consumers worldwide.

His profound impact continues to shape the global economy, fostering innovation and competition among businesses. As we navigate an ever-evolving digital landscape, it is crucial to remember and appreciate the ingenuity of Michael Aldrich, whose legacy continues to shape the future of retail and consumerism.

Michael Aldrich Archive

The Michael Aldrich Archive stands as a remarkable testament to its era, comprising predominantly original artifacts from Michael Aldrich's personal papers, materials originating the company he founded, and his own subsequent accounts.

This collection preserves a unique and invaluable glimpse into the life and achievements of the inventor of online shopping, providing a comprehensive view of his pioneering work, entrepreneurial journey, and personal reflections. The archive serves as a vital resource for researchers, historians, and enthusiasts seeking to understand the profound impact of Aldrich's visionary ideas on the world of ecommerce and digital retail.

Michael Aldrich Foundation

The Michael Aldrich Foundation is dedicated to advancing education, with a particular emphasis on arts education and community arts initiatives. Its primary treasure lies in the Aldrich Collection of contemporary art, which finds its home at the prestigious University of Brighton.

By nurturing artistic endeavors and supporting community-based art projects, the Foundation plays a vital role in fostering creativity and enriching the cultural landscape. Through the Aldrich Collection, the Foundation not only celebrates the legacy of Michael Aldrich but also ensures that contemporary art remains accessible and inspirational for generations to come.

From the invention of online shopping to your future ecommerce success in the digital age!

Though Aldrich passed away in 2014, he will forever be remembered as the “father” of online shopping. Because of his work and revolutionary ideas, customers around the world get to enjoy ecommerce and visit their favorite stores online.

If you’re considering starting your own ecommerce business, keep in mind that choosing the right platform for your website is crucial. You’ll want to be sure that you pick a high-quality, professional platform to make managing your ecommerce site a breeze.

Enter WiziShop!

With the WiziShop all-in-one ecommerce solution powered by artificial intelligence (AI), building and running an online store is easier than ever. From our user-friendly administration area featuring a simple menu, you'll be able to create a stunning ecommerce site that suits the vision you have for your brand by picking a theme from a wide range of design templates and using our hassle-free drag-and-drop WiziBlocks system. 

What's more, our platform allows you to take advantage of 400+ pre-integrated tools and 50+ SEO optimizations to help boost your conversions and your rankings on search engines like Google. No need to use add-ons from third parties (though you can still do so if you wish).

You can also take advantage of our powerful AI feature to generate a variety of text content, including product descriptions, titles, meta descriptions, translations, blog posts, and more, in a flash! 

Completely new to ecommerce? Not a problem! When you sign up with WiziShop, you'll also get complimentary access to a plethora of training modules on topics related to online sales. You'll also be able to talk with our Business Coaches and get help with any question you might have, big or small, concerning your online store and how to take your business to the next level.

Test WiziShop free for 3 days, get your first month for just $1, and start turning your entrepreneurial dreams into reality today!

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