The UK's first interactive TV service, Open, has begun its Christmas offensive with a survey designed to show that people should do their Christmas shopping ... via Open.
The Open system, created by British Interactive Broadcasting and backed by BSkyB, BT, Matsushita and HSBC, was initially launched to digital satellite TV users, and is now in nearly two million homes, offering shopping, TV banking, entertainment and email services.
Open appears to see the battle as one between itself and the internet, with some of the major retailers having a foot in both camps. Open has an impressive list of retail partners including Argos, Carphone Warehouse and Dixons.
Although these are fearsome names in the high street, with big-brand franchises, they will not be the only names which consumers will use online.
There are far more retailers and consumers who are not on Open than who are and that will be the case for years to come. For the foreseeable future, Open is not a truly internet experience, but a walled garden where consumers are denied the variety of the net. That has benefits as well as disadvantages.
Open is a world of trustworthy brands, a predictable ordering system, and no chance of data overload.
It is a sign of Open's lack of net-savvy that although its own site's address is www.open-here. co.uk, it didn't call the brand Open-here. To add to the confusion,opentv.com and opentv.co.uk are used by a Palo Alto company and a UK company called The Patel Group respectively.
Open's survey found 23 per cent of the population will not finish their Christmas shopping until Christmas Eve. We shall see whether last-minute shopping traffic flows in large numbers to Open's shopping partners, and whether their servers can withstand it.
Open quotes a psychologist saying that consumers want to feel above "all the fuss" and that last-minute shopping creates more stress, less choice, and rushed choices, resulting in gifts which might be only "second-best".
But many of the retailers working with Open are seen by net-heads as second best. Consumers use the web to get different products and a range of prices. To some critics, Open is more akin to the traditional school of retailing, while the net offers a different model. There will be an interesting post-Christmas comparison to be made between the successes of shopping via the net and shopping on interactive TV.
Nick Rosen is a director of The Online Research Agency, a market research company focused on the internet. Email: nick@online-agency. com or tel: 0797 1543703.