Canada's early adopters of online Christmas shopping

It's hard to believe that online shopping was once something that only appealed to early adopters, but back in 1998 it was still novel to complete your holiday shopping online.

Some saw it as an 'inevitable' trend … and they were, inevitably, right

Online Christmas shopping in 1998

24 years ago
Duration 2:00
Skip the mall and go online: in 1998, Canadians avoid busy stores by doing their Christmas shopping online.

Virginia Marshall surfs the Internet on a beige desktop computer that sits alongside a landline telephone. That doesn't sound very current, but the year is 1998 and she's an early adopter of online shopping.

As Marshall tells CBC — in a Dec. 12, 1998, news report that can be viewed at the top of this page, or through this link — she has made all of her Christmas purchases via the Internet.

And she makes a bold — and perfectly accurate — prediction about what is to come.

"It's inevitable," Marshall says, referring to the future rise of online shopping. 

'Too tempting'

"It's just too tempting to get out your credit card and you know," Marshall says, pausing while miming a typing action. "I think it's irresistible."

It wasn't just consumers like Marshall who had high hopes for the world of online shopping — retailers did, too.

In 1998, Indigo CEO Heather Reisman expressed optimism about what online shopping could do for consumers. (CBC Digital Archives)

Heather Reisman, the founder and CEO of Indigo, then saw a clear synergy for consumers between the world of bricks and mortar and the world of online shopping.

"It's just an added way to make life easy," Reisman told CBC in 1998.

Still, Canadians were apparently falling behind when it came to online shopping at the time of the report.

A big market

"Across North America, sales on the Internet are exploding, nearly tripling every year," reporter Norman Hermant explains to the viewer, while sitting next to a computer monitor with a Netscape Navigator logo on the screen.

"It's not clear how much Canadians spend, but most analysts say when it comes to shopping on the web, we are playing catch-up."

Today, we are very clear on exactly how much Canadians spend online — and the answer is a lot.

According to Statistics Canada, online sales in the final two months of last year totalled more than $3 billion, a time period that includes Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas.

Follow this link to see more stories from the CBC Digital Archives.