How department stores changed the way we shop – BBC News

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“No, I’m just looking. ” Terms most of us have said when approached nicely by a sales assistant while searching in a shop. Most of us will not have after that experienced the sales assistant snarling: “Then ‘op it, mate! inch

Hearing those terms in a London shop made very an impression on Harry Gordon Selfridge.

The year had been 1888, and the flamboyant American has been touring the great department stores of European countries – in Vienna, Berlin, the particular famous Bon Marche in Paris, france and then Manchester and London : to see what tips he could grab for his then-employer, Chicago’s Marshall Field.

Industry popularised the phrase “the consumer is always right”. Evidently, not the case in England.

2 decades later, Selfridge was back in Greater london, opening his eponymous department store upon Oxford Street – now a worldwide destination for retail, then an unfashionable backwater, but handily near the station on a newly opened Pipe line.

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Image caption Selfridges : pictured on its opening time, 15 March 1909 – grew to become renowned for sumptuous window shows

Selfridges caused a sensation, partly because of its sheer size: the retail area covered six acres (24, 500 sq m).


Selfridge also installed the largest glass home windows in the world – and created, to their rear, the most sumptuous shop displays.

But more than range, what set Selfridges apart had been attitude.

Harry Gordon Selfridge introduced a whole brand new shopping experience, one honed within the department stores of late-19th Century The united states.

“Just looking” was positively encouraged.

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As he had in Chicago, Selfridge swept away the previous custom associated with stashing merchandise behind locked cup doors in cabinets, or up high on unreachable shelves.

Instead, he laid out the particular open aisle displays we now ignore, where you can touch a product, pick it up, plus inspect it from all sides, without a salesperson hovering by your side.

In the full-page newspapers adverts he took out whenever his store opened, Selfridge in comparison the “pleasures of shopping” to people of “sightseeing”.

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Image caption Harry Gordon Selfridge revolutionised the purchasing experience

Shopping had long been bound plan social display.

The old arcades of the great Euro cities, displaying their fine natural cotton fashions – gorgeously lit along with candles and mirrors – had been places for the upper classes not just to see, but to be seen.

Selfridge had no pickup truck with snobbery or exclusivity. Their adverts pointedly welcomed the “whole British public”: “No cards associated with admission are required. ”

‘The bottom from the pyramid’

Management specialists nowadays talk about the fortune available at the “bottom of the pyramid” — Selfridge was way ahead of all of them. In his Chicago store, he become a huge hit to the working classes by thinking up the concept of the “bargain basement”.

Selfridge do perhaps more than anyone to invent buying as we know it. But the ideas had been in the air.

An additional trailblazer was an Irish migrant named Alexander Turney Stewart. Stewart introduced New Yorkers to the surprising concept of not hassling customers the minute they walked through the door, the novel policy he called “free entrance”.

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Image caption Alexander T Stewart fixed his prices low, hoping to create profits from high volumes associated with sales

AT Stewart and Co has been among the first stores to practise the particular now-ubiquitous “clearance sale”, periodically moving forward old stock at knockdown costs to make room for new.

Stewart also offered no-quibble refunds. He made customers pay within cash, or settle their expenses quickly. Traditionally, shoppers had put out their lines of credit for up to annually.

He furthermore recognised that not everybody liked in order to haggle, with many welcoming the simpleness of being quoted a fair price, plus being told to take it or keep it.

Stewart made this “one-price” approach function by accepting unusually low mark-ups. “[I] put our goods on the market at the lowest price I could afford, ” he said, “although I realise only a small revenue on each sale, the bigger area of business makes possible a large build up of capital”.

This particular idea wasn’t totally unprecedented, however it was certainly considered radical.

The first salesman Stewart hired was appalled to discover however not be allowed to apply his carefully tuned skill of sizing in the customer’s apparent wealth and removing as extravagant a price as possible. This individual resigned on the spot, telling the younger Irish shopkeeper he’d be broke within a month.

Cathedrals of commerce

By the time Stewart died, more than five decades later, he has been one of the richest men in Nyc.

The great department stores grew to become cathedrals of commerce. At Stewart’s “Marble Palace”, the shopkeeper featured: “You may gaze upon several dollars’ worth of goods, and no guy will interrupt either your deep breathing or your admiration. ”

They took purchasing to another level, sometimes literally.

Corvin’s in Budapest installed a lift that became this kind of attraction in its own right which they began to charge for using it. Working in london, Harrods’s moving staircase carried four, 000 people an hour.

In such shops, one could purchase anything from cradles to gravestones.

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Picture caption Golf champion David Henry Taylor instructing customers in Harrods in 1914

Harrods offered a complete funeral service. There were picture art galleries, smoking rooms, tea rooms, shows. The shop displays bled away into the street, as entrepreneurs constructed covered galleries around their shops.

It was, states historian Frank Trentmann, the birthday of “total shopping”.

The glory days of the city center department store have faded a little. With all the rise of cars has come the particular out-of-town shopping mall, where land is usually cheaper.

Vacationers in England still enjoy Harrods plus Selfridges, but many also head to Bicester Village, a few miles north associated with Oxford, an outlet that is a specialist in luxury brands at a price cut.

But the connection with going to the shops has changed remarkably small since pioneers such as Stewart plus Selfridge turned it on the head. And it may be no chance that they did it at a time when ladies were gaining in social plus economic power.

There are, of course , some tired stereotypes about women and their supposed really like of shopping. But the evidence means that the stereotypes aren’t completely mythical.

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Time-use research suggest women spend more time shopping compared to men.

Study indicates that this is a matter associated with preference as well as duty: men often say they like shops along with easy parking and short peruse queues. Women are more likely to prioritise different factors of the shopping experience, such as the friendliness of sales assistants.

Social reformer?

This wouldn’t have stunned Harry Gordon Selfridge. He noticed that female customers offered rewarding opportunities that other retailers had been bungling.

A single quietly revolutionary move was that Selfridges featured a ladies’ lavatory, the facility London’s shopkeepers had formerly neglected to provide.

He saw – as some other men apparently had not – that ladies might want to stay in town all day, without needing to use an insalubrious public convenience or even retreat to a respectable hotel with regard to tea whenever they wanted to relieve by themselves.

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Picture caption Selfridges was designed to become as attractive as possible to ladies

Selfridge’s biographer Lindy Woodhead even considers he “could justifiably claim to possess helped emancipate women”. That’s a huge claim for a shopkeeper, but interpersonal progress can sometimes come from unexpected instructions.

And Harry Gordon Selfridge certainly saw themself as a social reformer.

He once explained the reason why, at his Chicago store, however introduced a creche. “I arrived just at the time when women wished to step out on their own, ” he mentioned.

“They reached the store and realised some of their desires. ”

Bernard Harford writes the Financial Times’s Undercover Economist column. 50 Things That Produced the Modern Economy is usually broadcast on the BBC World Support. You can find more information about the programme’s resources and listen online or subscribe to the programme podcasting.

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