Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Want to See What “Online Shopping” Looked Like in 1986? Florida Fruit Shippers Was There.

It’s Black Friday as I write this post, and I don’t know about you, but I have no plans to go anywhere near a physical store. First of all, I know I’d never find a parking spot, and the crowds and general stress (not to mention those Christmas carols playing over and over) are too much for me. I’ve always been happy to sit this one out at home.

However, I will start my shopping this weekend—from the comfort of my own home, and possibly in my PJs. While I don’t want to brave the stores, I’ve got no quibble with venturing online to shop, and I bet you don’t either. Statistics show that Americans today do about half of their holiday shopping online. I’d say I personally do about 75%! It’s just so much easier.

But can you remember when online shopping first started getting off the ground? What was the first thing you bought through a computer, and when? Amazingly, here at Florida Fruit Shippers, our owner and founder, Rick Del Greco, identified the incredible potential of online shopping over 25 years ago. That’s right—we’re early adopters here at Florida Fruit Shippers!

In fact, we recently unearthed a tape from 1986 of a news segment about this “new” way to shop. It features Rick and our beautiful oranges and grapefruits. We think you’ll enjoy going back in time to the ‘80s, when clothes and computers definitely looked a little bit different:

Here’s another clip from the Today show about the CompuServe Mall where an expert has to explain to a confused-looking Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley how online shopping works. They seem amazed! (Don’t forget to show these to your kids and grandkids for a really good reaction!)

And in my favorite clip , this big question gets asked: “Is home shopping just a fad, or is it here to stay?” Well…what do you think? (Look for a fun big-ticket item from Florida Fruit Shippers at the 3:42 mark.)
CompuServe ad from the February, 1985 issue
of Online Today [source]

As you saw in the first clip, Florida Fruit Shippers started offering online citrus ordering way back in 1986, through the very earliest major online shopping venue in the U.S.: the CompuServe Electronic Mall. At the time, there were less than 30 merchants selling products! CompuServe was the first company offering commercial Internet and online services in the United States. To use their electronic mall, customers scrolled through a list of companies (other early adopters included big retailers like JC Penney, Waldenbooks and Sears) and read text descriptions of the products. Of course, no images were available, as this was well before web browsers. Check out some ads for the Mall from back in the day here, including an image of the entire directory of companies selling online in 1984.

Just like today, though, when a customer was ready to buy, he or she entered a credit card number, and the product (maybe a basket of delicious navel oranges?) shipped out the next day. The service worked really well for Florida Fruit Shippers because it gave people around the country and the world easy access to a special, local product that ships beautifully. Online ordering increased our business dramatically in just a few short years.
Our Christmas Tree Deluxe gift basket
continues to be a holiday classic!

How did Florida Fruit Shippers have the foresight to get into the online space so early? Owner Rick reports that he was always pretty interested in computers and computing, and bought himself a Timex home computer early on. He saw an ad for the CompuServe Mall in a computer magazine, thought it would be a great thing for FFS to try, and the rest is history. FFS continued to partner with CompuServe through 1996, when we started our first stand-alone website. Rick remembers how excited everyone was back then when we finally were able to feature (small, low-resolution) pictures of our beautiful citrus!

Today, of course, we’re no longer the only company offering online ordering of gift citrus. But we think you’ll find that our emphasis on customer service and our hand-selected, top-quality oranges, tangerines, grapefruits, and honeybells still set us apart.

Just like the customer featured in that first video, I love having the option of “ordering flowers at 3 am.” I bet you do too. This holiday season, I’m taking a minute to appreciate how far technology has come (no more scrolling through a bunch of tiny green text!) while enjoying the leisurely convenience of shopping online.

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