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Ordering by phone the way forward
T he way we shop has completely and irreversibly changed in the 25 years since the launch of the World Wide Web.
Almost anything can now be bought from the comfort of the sofa and delivered to the doorstep while the internet has handed control to shoppers, who can make themselves as knowledgeable as shopkeepers and post online reviews that can make or break a product or service.
Chris Webster, head of retail, technology and consulting at IT consultancy Capgemini UK, said: "The internet has been the biggest shift in retail since the move from counter service to retail self-service in the 60s and 70s.
"That shift transformed the way we shop but this is the next enormous change, from the store-based model to the internet-based model."
But he added: "You could argue that the days when the greengrocer used to drive around people's homes has now turned full circle.
"Now we just order it in advance."
Online grocery firm Ocado, which started up 14 years ago, saw end-of-year trading up 20% year on year in an indication of the sector's ascension.
Ocado chief executive Tim Steiner said: "Last year the food retail market in the UK was driven by consumers' increasing preference for shopping online.
"Today the momentum seems unstoppable and, as the market evolves, we are leading the way in delivering market-leading service, innovation, and technology to the benefit of our customers.
"These developments reflect the increasing demand for online grocery shopping in the UK and internationally."
Mr Webster said the many benefits to online retail included the ability of niche organisations to sell products globally and for consumers to shop when and where they wanted from the comfort of their home.
The emergence of large players such as Amazon had inevitably meant that other organisations could not compete, leading to the disappearance of some big high street names.
But he said: "One could argue that if businesses are not delivering what customers want, it is inevitable that they won't survive."
Capgemini's figures show UK online sales grew by 4,782% between 2000/01 and 2012/13.
By 2008, the entire growth in retail was coming from online sales, while store sales were stable or declining.
And by last autumn, shopping from mobile devices - either tablets or smartphones - accounted for the entire growth of online sales.
Mr Webster said Capgemini's figures suggested 32% of "e-retail" sales were now from a mobile device.
As for the future, Mr Webster said: "I think the only thing we can say for sure is that the growth of shopping via mobile devices is going to become more important. The role of the smartphone, as the device that we use to engage with the internet, will only increase.
"The things we'll be doing in five to 10 years' time to engage with the internet via our phones we can only dream about now."