Sunday 24 February 2019

Retailing Has Always Been About Change

Retailers for centuries have found ways of accommodating the wishes of consumers and the same thing is still happening with a twist or two to allow for progress. But, in essence things haven’t changed a lot.

When market towns and fairs became popular in medieval times there were no cars to hop into for a quick shopping trip and many consumers simply did not have access to goods. The need for convenience was answered by pedlars who visited consumer’s with a variety of produce and hard goods. The goods came to the consumer. To get the convenience factor into perspective, fairs were held twice a year while pedlars might visit monthly.

Fast forward to today and the restrictions of modern traffic and busy lifestyles means that pre-shopping or actual shopping online adds a level of convenience and has changed the way consumers shop. The essence remains - find a way to meet consumer’s needs.

During the 16th Century in Vicenza, Italy, the established cheesemongers had a lucrative trade selling through their established “shops”. Direct sellers started to buy cheese from surrounding producers and undercutting prices at the local market. Retail disruption was alive and well 5 centuries ago and consumers knew a good deal when they saw it.

When a London Draper attempted to add meat and vegetables to his drapery store he caused an uproar, but the department stores that evolved from that sort of disruption have prospered for over 150 years. Now department stores might be the targets of retail change themselves as consumers find more convenient ways to do their shopping.

There are many other examples of retail change - mail order catalogues, shopping centres (there are examples of 4 story shopping “forums” in Roman times), party plan (not unlike pedlars of old), supermarkets (constantly promoting their market roots), and of course online with all its features like global delivery, click’n’collect, and so on.

So, new retailing has many similarities with old retailing. But thinking the current way of doing business can go on forever is simply not supported by history. Retailing will change in lots of different ways but the basics remain the same. There is only one master in our industry, the consumer, and chasing the best way to get their business will always encourage disruption and change