Every year, we hear that it will be a record Christmas for online sales, that the internet is hurting the high street and that those retailers without a web presence will miss out. All undeniably true

Yet it’s time to move the debate about online retail forward and that’s why we’ve devoted this issue of Retail Week to the phenomenon of the internet.

It is an exciting form of retailing, but also an immature one. As our feature on page 22 shows, online retailers let their customers down in all sorts of ways that they never would on the high street. That’s not entirely surprising – e-tailing demands a suite of skills that many high street retailers don’t have.

However, as online retail evolves, there will be no excuse for sites that are a nightmare to navigate, non-existent customer support and, in non-food sectors, fulfilment that requires you to take a whole day off work.

Grocers seem to have worked this out, but there are still huge issues. Will Ocado ever make money? Can it really make sense for Tesco to employ an army of people to wheel trolleys around its stores doing its customers’ shopping?

Those customers that have embraced online shopping have been willing to sacrifice the service that they would expect in stores in return for the convenience of not going out themselves. But this won’t be the case forever. If online retail is ever to come of age, the customer experience simply has to improve.

A competitive market
The Competition Commission will soon publish its provisional findings on the grocery market, and the question of whether the food market operates at a national or local level will be at the heart of the debate.

The travails of Sainsbury’s and Morrisons have shown that if customers don’t like what they get from their nearest grocer, they switch and they can do this because virtually all shoppers have a choice of at least three grocers within a
15-minute drive.

Wherever they live in the country, shoppers are getting the same low prices nationwide. There is no need for the Competition Commission to regulate – the industry is doing
this by itself.