The first wave of e-commerce offered non-perishable items such as books and CDs. A significant recent development has been the extension of online selling to everyday household goods including food.
After a rather timid start with its main Sainsbury.co.uk web site, Sainsbury's is now rolling out an ambitious online shopping service called Sainsbury's To You.
In fact this site too begins rather badly, with the download of a pretty large file to provide the latest information on the products available. The shopping experience in general is rather slow on older PCs, but otherwise works well. The design is very clear, and well-branded throughout with the Sainsbury livery of orange.
The checkout is particularly painless because customers will typically use previous delivery details. In fact, Sainsbury's To You even allows previous orders to be used as the starting point for new ones - an important feature for this kind of recurring purchase. The content is a little thin, though, and there is no sense of community, though this might be hard to create among users of a supermarket.
The same is probably true for Ryanair's site (www.ryanair.com). After all, there is not much to say about the flights, which are extremely cheap, and clearly perfect candidates for online sales where overheads can be kept to a minimum.
Like the fares it offers, Ryanair's site is no-nonsense and without frills. After selecting your departure and destination points from easy-to-use drop-down menus on the search page, you then choose from the available flights. Short explanations can be brought up about these on the following summary page.
Once you have checked these details, you then move briskly on to the actual purchase. This, in turn, leads to the final confirmation page. Where you are in the five stages of the process - search, select, summary, purchase and confirm - is neatly indicated visually on each page.
Just as customers must always be offered the chance to review their order before committing to it, so too they must always feel confident about how far they have progressed in the transaction. Ryanair rightly understands that from this feeling of control comes a greater readiness to buy.