The History Of Retail In 100 Objects – The Department Store

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The History Of Retail In 100 Objects – The Department Store

The earliest department stores appealed to affluent shoppers or those who aspired to own high-quality merchandise and began to surface on multiple continents in the early to mid-1800s. The department store concept remains highly relevant to shoppers, but modern operators are less discriminating and offer formats and product assortment s that appeal to a broad range of income levels. As with many retail innovations, the origins of the department store are difficult to isolate to a particular individual or retailer and the earliest versions of department stores bore little resemblance to their modern counterparts. However, what is clear is that the concept of a retail store offering multiple classifications of merchandise gained momentum in the early to mid-1800s. Charles Henry Harrod established his first retail business in London 1824. Austin’s was established as a department store in Northern Ireland in 1830 and David Jones opened a department store in Australia in 1838. Emerson Muschamp Bainbridge and William Alder Dunn opened a department store in England in 1849 and in 1851, the Buckley &Nunn department store opened in Melbourne, Australia. In 1852, Aristide Boucicaut opened the Le Bon Marché in Paris and six years later in 1958 the first R.H. Macy & Co. store opened in New York. These retailers brought a different perspective to the concept of department store, but each sought to benefit from the escalating standard of living that had resulted from the Industrial Revolution. As disposable incomes for Europeans and Americans increased, department store operators were there to provide a new type of shopping experience and to satisfy shoppers’ desire for consumer goods. The golden age of the traditional department store and its role in society began to fade in the 1960s with the advent of suburban shopping malls and discount department stores. The latter introduced a new type of value proposition to price sensitive mass market shoppers who were willing to accept reduced service levels and a more austere store experience in exchange for lower prices. The concept of the department store remains as relevant as ever, however retailers have to continue to refine product assortments and pursue ever narrower segments of the marketplace based on shopper demographics.

Contribution to Retail History

The introduction of department stores in England, France and the United States in the early to mid-1800s marked the beginning of an important chapter in the history of retailing. Department stores became iconic symbols of prosperity and were the dominant form of retailing for more than a century. The concept of the department store remains as highly relevant today as when it emerged to satisfy new found affluence spawned by the Industrial Revolution. Department stores gave rise to discount stores and also influenced the development of enclosed malls as retail developers took note of the powerful appeal that resulted from combining multiple departments of merchandise in a single destination.

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