The Woman Who Became the World’s First Online Shopper

People spend billions each year shopping online, but few know that it was a grandmother from Gateshead, UK, who pioneered it from her living room. In 1984, grandmother Jane Snowball, then 72, sat down in an armchair in her living room, picked up a TV remote, and used it to order groceries from her local supermarket. What she didn’t realize at the time was that her simple shopping list was the world’s first online order. Using a piece of technology called Videotex, she sent the order through her phone line to the local Tesco store. The goods were then packaged and delivered to her door. The Gateshead Shopping Experiment was about helping elderly with mobility problems, and Mrs. Snowball was selected to try the system because she had broken her hip. Pressing a button on the remote brought up a directory of retailers on the TV screen and she was able to choose her retailer of choice. There was a list of 1,000 items from Tesco alone, and it took just 15 minutes to teach her how to use the system. Certainly, no one at the time knew the experiment would actually transform shopping. It was years before the World Wide Web came into being.