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Last Minute Christmas Shopping Online

After those final delivery deadlines have passed and even after the shops have closed, Online stores that fulfil through downloads are still available.

These stores can give a whole new meaning to last minute Christmas shopping.

The goods available as downloads these days include a whole range of material, from software including games through movies and e-books to the ever popular music options and services including airline and cinema tickets, holiday vouchers, mobile phone airtime and ring tones.

In some ways there is nothing new about the principal of last minute shopping on line. Here in the UK a videotex system called Prestel introduced e-mail in 1981 and shortly there after online purchase and down load of software was introduced. (In those days before bloatware I could access an e-mail system using a 20 line Basic programme so the software downloads were tiny by today's standards.) That was handy because Prestel used very, very, very slow modems and clunky graphics but it was still the platform for one of the first major IT security scandal involving access to Prince Phillip's e-mail account. In those days you charged your purchases to your phone bill - an approach that is still floating around today.

It has been the cost, availability and above all consumer confidence in payment methods for online shopping which has governed the rate of progress over the last 20+ years.

The distribution costs of the online retailer comprised the web site services, shop software and the card acceptance company charges. For a long time the shop software was seen as a highly specialist and high cost area but new solutions have emerged in the last few years that have broken down this barrier. At we use two of those approaches. For small purchases of one or two recordings we have adopted the BitPass system. They provide online payment facilities backed off onto the consumer's credit or debit card which permit economically viable transactions for goods or services priced at fractions of a dollar. This is particularly helpful for the distribution of electronic media including MP3 files. For larger orders we encourage customers to set up an account with us using the open source OsCommerce application and payment facilities provided by PayPal where the economics kick in at somewhat higher value transactions.

Availability of content has progressed as secure and efficient file format standards such as PDF and MP3 have been established, encryption for secure transactions introduced and tested in practice and dramatically increased bandwidth at low cost has made it widely accessible.

Consumer confidence has taken some knocks and care is still called for. But with low value, digital content based transactions the risks are pretty low. Online retailers are generally well aware of the need to maintain consumer confidence and will deal fairly with any issues that may arise and the security problems with physical delivery do not arise.

So we have reached the stage where it is perfectly possible to buy substantial products online easily, with confidence and importantly at this time of year, at the time and place of your choice.

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