You may remember the improbable scene from futuristic movies of the fifties and sixties: A large screen in somebody's ultra high-tech apartment lites up and a soft voice croons: 'welcome, what can I do for you?'. And then the film character orders a bottle of champagne, on ice, glasses, caviar etcetera - 'and oh yes, I'll be needing a car for tomorrow, what are your options?' Today this scenario is very close from being realized in the average home. You still can't talk to most computers, but you can do the rest. Online shopping is the Next Big Thing, if we are to believe the marketeers, and the only thing that prevents it from instant total success is the problem of identification and payment online. Countless wizzkids are working on watertight privacy proof digital cash systems, so that little bug will most likely be solved in the near future. And then we can all go shopping on the Net with a pocketful of cyberbucks. Right now you can purchase flowers, pc's, stock photo's, clothes, domestic decorations and what have you via the WWW. You can browse the digital shops like you wander the floors of a department store, picking up things here and there and emptying your basket at the counter. At that point the illusion of walking a shop floor usually stops: There's nothing to take away, and you have to fill in lengthy forms with your name, address, telephone and fax numbers, credit card data, email account... And then you'll have to wait for the shopkeeper to call you back for confirmation. And after that you pay by credit card of money order and wait for delivery...
Little problems, that come to your attention only at the end of your shopping experience. Before that, the sites do their utmost to look like real shops. There's entertainment in the big warehouses, updates on trends and little games to please the children. Every screen tries to be a shop window, displaying the glamorous product, and the interfaces sometimes literally imitate the navigation of the physical sites. Then you see the elevator lights at the top of your screen, indicating which floor you're on. Or the neon signs that tell you in which direction to go for the domestic department. Other sites look more like the advertisement pages of free local papers, embellished with lots of moving dots and flashy letters and rotating pictograms that approach you saying: 'order now, for the holidays!' Like in the real world there's 'high' and 'low' shopping on the web.