Shopaholics beware

4th November 2005 at 00:00
According to, only one out of every 100 online shopping transactions carried out in the UK now goes wrong. That's great news for 99 happy customers but not so good if you happen to be the one chewing the carpet because you've been sent the wrong model, or it's damaged, or just doesn't work. Or the one who unwraps an item to discover that the vendor should never have put it on eBay, but in the dustbin. Even worse, you can spend hours with your nose pressed up against the window pane awaiting a delivery that never arrives. I write from the heart having spent a couple of days (when not munching Axminster) firing off emails about an undelivered order and seething in a queue on a premium-rate customer helpline, listening to "Rain Drops Keep Falling On My Head".

I can get just as agitated when items do arrive. As I understand the small print, suppliers can insist that the goods are your responsibility from the moment you accept delivery of them. So before signing the delivery slip, for your own protection, you should unwrap the package, check that all the components are included and that they are in full working order. I've tried doing it. Believe me, it's not easy wrestling with Sellotape, bubble wrap and polystyrene when you are being muttered at by an irate delivery man whose van is parked on double yellows.

The simple truth is that the only sensible way to shop is, erm, in shops.

You can make a purchase in the full and certain knowledge that if it doesn't work you can storm back with all the righteous indignation of a John Cleese returning an ex-parrot.

Sadly, the days of ye olde shoppe seem numbered as shoppers desert the high street in favour of the high-tech equivalent. Online sales in the UK, which already average a staggering billion pounds a month, are sure to rocket in the weeks up to Christmas. Increased turnover will mean greater pressure on the suppliers and therefore even more chance of major cock-ups.

So if you're determined to do your Christmas shopping online, resist the urge to place an order until you've read the advice at, and a few of the other sites packed with the dos and don'ts of e-shopping. I know it's not much fun visiting these worthy sites - but neither is explaining to a child on Christmas morning that he's the one in a 100.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, AOL UK has been finding out the views of 10-year-olds - "the first generation to be born in the internet era".

They're looking forward to a future in which they'll whiz around on jetpacks, be taught by robots, and follow a curriculum that will include the study of celebs and alien languages. Don't laugh. There's probably a university somewhere in the UCAS manual which is already offering a joint honours in Klingon and Abi Titmuss.

When asked about their favourite pastimes, the children - despite being dab hands at ICT - surprisingly did not include playing on computers or surfing the net in their top five activities. What they like best is what kids have always liked best: "going to friends' houses" and "playing outside".

This, at least, should have the worried souls at the Alliance for Childhood punching the air in delight. These American educators and academics have just published a well researched report (free at which should be studied by every e-vangelist, technophile and teacher.

It challenges the uncritical enthusiasm with which the educational world has accepted new technology. Read it and you'll be convinced that there's precious little evidence to prove that ICT is of any pedagogic value - but plenty of research which makes you think that computers should be as welcome in the classroom as an infestation of nits. The more time children spend in front of a computer screen, the less contact they have with the real world. And that's a tragedy, the report argues, because it's their creative interaction with other people and with the environment which can provide them with the most effective and exhilarating learning opportunities.

The report also highlights the medical research which suggests that children who spend too long on computers or vegging-out in front of the telly could be destined to an adulthood plagued by RSI, swollen joints and obesity. In the future, they'll need those jetpacks - not for fun but just to get around.

This first generation to be born in the internet era will have another reason to curse computers. They are toxic time bombs packed with methylated mercury, cadmium, lead and other sorts of noxious substances which give envionmentalists nightmares. We are currently dumping 2,000,000 computers a year in landfill sites where they'll cause future generations all kinds of environmental problems.

An EU directive which comes into effect in January will go some way to improving the situation. It insists that suppliers take responsibility for collecting and disposing of any hardware that they've sold since August 2005. Older hardware is not covered by the directive but the government is urging local authorities to create recycling facilities for it. So, if you have ejunk cluttering up your attic or store room, you could ask your local authority what to do with it. But you'll probably find it easier to advertise it on eBay.

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