An interesting encounter, while browsing in Carlisle the other day, pointed this dozy, outdated shopper at the worryingly complex future of retail.

I was fretting, with extraordinary excitement, over a new casserole dish – see how glamorous life has become? What size did I want, which colour would be best, should I invest in matching saucepans?

Next to me, a man was methodically taking phone pictures of electric kettles and coffee makers.

“Something for the family album?” I asked. I’ve always been the nosy kind.

“Taking photos of products and prices,” he said helpfully. “Then, when I get home I look for the same things online and buy where they’re cheapest. Everybody does it.”

Do they? Thinking about it, I suppose I’d known this wasn’t news. But everybody? If true, proper shops must be in the kind of serious trouble that will only worsen before getting better.

“Ah, good idea,” I lied… safer to be nice, I find.

“But what I want is already in the sale and I’d like to take it home today.”

He smiled and pointed his phone at a blender.

“You could be saving yourself money. Try it.”

I didn’t, of course. Too much faff, if you ask me. But I did start to wonder when faffing had become such a thing.

Anne Pickles A few days previously there had been national news reports of a bookseller in the Yorkshire Dales who’d been charging would-be customers 50p to enter his shop. He complained people were rummaging through his shelves and then ordering on Amazon – sometimes right under his nose. If they bought a book, he refunded the entrance charge.

I found the ensuing outrage – he was labelled the shopkeeper from hell – amusing. Any evidence of tight Yorkshiremen usually prompts a smile from me. I’m from Yorkshire, after all. I’m familiar with thrift.

But how funny is it, really? If local shops disappear, through no fault of their own, into the black hole of internet services will we miss them? If and when they do go, who will we blame for their loss?

In spite of knowing all about market forces and a desire – nay, need – to shave a bob or two from our spending, my guess is we’ll blame anyone but ourselves. But we’ll still miss them.

There’s something rude, distasteful and somehow just plain wrong about browsing an independent shop or high street store lumbered with inescapable bills for overheads and staff, taking pictures of their goods and trotting off home to open the laptop, undercut them and ultimately put them out of business.

Taken to its logical conclusion, if “everybody” did that – as my smart phone snapper suggested – our town and city centres would be swiftly deserted by everything but tumbleweed.

Therein lies a genuine worry for a small city such as Carlisle, trying hard to grow its retail centre to provide jobs, choice, variety and a buzz of social interaction.

“Online shopping is convenient for you the customer, if you know what you want,” a store manager once explained to me. “But the physical, pleasurable business of browsing in a shop, perhaps with friends, and finding something you didn’t know you wanted, until you saw it… that will never go.”

Not so, apparently. At least, not if shoppers take new pleasure in photographing stock, comparing virtual bargains over coffee and then spending on rival websites at home. Best of all worlds there – a trip out, a purpose, crack with pals, money saved. Result.

A poor result for a centre like Carlisle’s though, eh?

So, what’s the answer? Paying to enter to find something you didn’t know you wanted?

That tight Yorkshireman might just be on to something.