The little company that promised shopping via the TV in 1985
Cableshare of London, Ont., foresaw the end of trips to the mall
Shopping from the comfort of one's living room? In 1985, it was already rolling out in the United States.
In London, Ont., a company called Cableshare had been "cranking out" computer and communications equipment for 12 years.
And according to reporter Antonia Zerbisias for the CBC business program Venture on Oct. 13, 1985, Cableshare had pulled off "what giant American corporations couldn't."
She said it had invented "a simple system for tele-shopping: catalog sales through cable TV."
Screen and phone in combination
As the camera showed screens demonstrating a "home shopping system" called "Touch 'N Shop," Zerbisias highlighted Cableshare's advantage.
"Other systems use expensive hardware like home computers," said Zerbisias. "But not Cableshare's: all it needs is a touch-tone phone and a TV."
Noting that she could "spend up a storm" as she navigated the system, Zerbisias said it worked "like a shopping mall, only cheaper."
And that's what had attracted the attention of the U.S. department store chain J.C. Penney, a staple of malls south of the border.
'The marketplace won't be a mall'
Terry Pocock, president of Cableshare, said J.C. Penney knew that "in the long run," shoppers would buy goods using a screen at home.
"The marketplace won't be a mall. The marketplace won't be a catalogue," he said.
Zerbisias said once a deal was inked with Cableshare, J.C. Penney's plan was to build "video malls, with other retailers as electronic tenants."
Even though Cableshare's system was "the best so far" according to experts, some kinks remained.
"One problem: it works like a party line," said Zerbisias. "If your neighbour's using it, you'll have to wait."
Whether consumers would give up shopping trips for "video catalogs" was another question. And even if the United States could have them by the end of 1986, the picture was different in Canada.
"We didn't even try and sell anybody in Canada on home shopping," said Pocock. "The regulatory problems meant we had an uphill battle all the way."