Consumers History

The consumer has always has to travel to purchase basic need and foods they did not grow themselves. In earlier times they would travel to market places and fairs so they could purchase these items from stalls or small general mercantile stores. Unlike today one would have to either travel to a number of small stores or stalls to purchase various items. Items specific stores were common in larger towns and cities. Forts and frontier towns has general mercantile stores where dry goods and items such as cloth, needles, pots, etc. could be purchased. Meat and other perishable items could be purchased but usually at different store or stall in the market place or fair. Shopping as we know today did not exist.

In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century most items could be purchased from stores similar to today’s co-ops. These stores usually referred to as “Mom and Pop” stores carried a small amount of a wide variety of items. The “Mom and Pop” stores did not have set prices and the cost of an item could vary greatly between them. The stores were usually run by the owners who would set the price and could change it at any time. Inventory could also change depending on the whims of the owner. In the 1916’s this all began to change with the introduction of the “Piggly Wiggly” department store.

The idea behind the “Piggly Wiggly” department store was the customer could browse up and down sidles where merchandise was on display. This enabled them to choose the merchandise they wanted in quantity they required, place it into a self-serve basket which they took to the cashier at the front of the store, paid for the items and left. The merchandise was all labeled with the prices and there was no haggling involved. The owner, Clarence Sanders of the “Piggly Wiggly” department stores hoped this style of shopping would increase his profits as the customers who see the merchandise and pick up items they had not thought of purchasing prior to seeing them on the shelves. In 1926, the stores sold more than twice the merchandise of another store. Although, “Piggly Wiggly” never reached the success of other big department stores, one could say that it paved the way for the department/superstores of today. Just like the superstores and department stores of today, “Piggly Wiggly” tried to carry everything one could be looking to purchase.

“Piggly Wiggly” advertised how convenient they were to shop at, with their large grocery selections which allowed women to choose what they purchased. This was all available without the pressure of a salesman standing over her. She was free to select items off the shelf and bring them up to the cashier where she paid for them and took them home to her family. “Piggly Wiggly” gave the average household an inexpensive way to purchase goods and this idea became the forerunner of the department/superstore we know today.

The start of the large grocery stores became the end of many of the smaller “Mom and Pop” shops which could not compete with the pricing. “Piggly Wiggly” was able to have lower prices because its profit margin depended on mass purchasing rather than the large profit margins. Many of the “Mom and Pop” style stores still in operation today are here because they offer convenience. Located away from the large grocery and superstores, they rely on the customers who forgot on or two items and did not want to travel to the larger store. They have limited merchandise and their pricing is higher, customers pay for the convenience of the store rather than the lower pricing.

Books read to help write this:

Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes: A cultural history of American advertising second edition by Juliann Sivulka

Satisfaction guaranteed: the making of the American mass market by Susan Strasser


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