I have seen both sides of the business-to-consumer e-commerce debate and, on reflection, I have taken a firm seat on the fence.

That is, I cannot wholly extol the virtues of the virtual nor can I see myself ever returning to the world of exclusive person-to-person commerce.

This holiday season I ordered a lot of presents on-line, and had only positive experiences. At the same time, when I did manage to marshal my courage and venture forth into the real world I saw some value in meeting my fellow festive travellers face-to-face.

For Christmas ’00 I decided to break a long-standing tradition and start my shopping in late November. My brother-in-law wanted a whack of CDs and I had just heard a radio ad promising free delivery from HMV.com. I merrily pointed my browser in that direction.

I located four CDs, none of which were new releases, typed in my credit card number, and waited. It was a short wait. Twenty-three hours later the CDs arrived at my office, postage paid. I was impressed.

Stuck for gifts for both my parents I hit HMV.com again and those two orders, plus a later CD purchase, each appeared within one business day and with no-charge delivery. For me, HMV batted a thousand this season.

Fast forward to Christmas Eve. Grabbing a few minutes to scan the paper I spied an ad for Future Shop’s Boxing Day sale. One cool gadget grabbed my eye: an NEC 19-inch monitor, regular $470 on sale for $300. But it was only available on Dec. 26th, and in limited quantities. Or I could get it on-line Dec. 25th.

Now here’s the irony of this tale. I was awake after midnight on Dec. 25, being Santa for my daughters Katarina and Emma, and I could have ordered the monitor at 12:01 Christmas Day. But being St. Nick is a consuming task and I forgot about my big-screen toy until 1:30 that afternoon. By then the site was reporting “Sold-out.”

Future Shop opened at 7:00 a.m. on Boxing Day. Did I want to drag myself out of a warm bed to stand on a cold sidewalk, just to save a few bucks? No. But I did it anyway, and you know what? It was fun.

When I arrived at 6:00 a.m. about 60 other fools were already in line. I joined them, cold, yawning and wondering what the heck I was doing. But then I started chatting with my line mates. We talked about their Christmas mornings, computers, stereos and movies, holiday stress and how freakin’ cold it was.

Eventually I got my monitor, and although I could have avoided the line with a little forethought, I’m happy with the way it played out. I would have missed freezing with all the other fools as we waited on that cold sidewalk.

You can’t do that on the Web.

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