When it comes to ‘the good old days’ in the retail world we generally refer to the 1950s-1970s. The Western world’s peak of consumer society and the golden era for the high street shops.
In a desperate attempt to consign from oblivion the struggle of the second world war, the population was determined to get back on their feet. With a little American influence, the existing shopping streets that had become an asset to local communities began to boom.
The end of the war brought with it a new sense of independence for women and more and more were going out to work. This in itself leads to an increase of family income and the middle class flourished. Like the classic domino effect, people were happier, more financially comfortable and more babies were born. These children grew up with very different aspirations to their parents which meant they studied for longer and starting working later.
By virtue of the radio and more increasingly, the television, this young generation slowly became the purchasing power. The elimination of interfering channels that came with the radio meant that the adverts on television had their audiences eating out of the palm of their hand. People were curious and were always left wanting more.
The economy was taking off. More purchases, more desire for the same products and more spending power. The golden age of retail had begun.
The Golden Era
It’s not rocket science – the key to success was the ability to boost supply. In this golden era, we saw the birth of mass markets and mass consumption. Local shops seemed to be slowly dying out and they too found themselves contemplating the potential success of venturing out into chains. On top of that, the development of infrastructure brought with it the much-needed accessibility to create more chains.
In a bid to manage the scale and traffic of these booming chains, the notion of a ‘one stop shop’ was sought after. Local shops first became supermarkets, supermarkets then hypermarkets and the ‘big white boxes’ such as IKEA began to sprout their wings.
Disappearing Borders reshape the world
Despite facing the battles of the Cold War and the Gulf War, society continued to evolve. In the early 1980s companies came to the realization that their products could be made more cost-effective should they be prepared to uproot from Europe. Consequently, new job prospects were few and far between and wages became idle.
The possibility of ‘free movement industry’ drew in a lot of attention from those outside Western Europe at a price of masses of migration and protests. With the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 paving the way, the world was slowly moving towards an ideology of whole connection. People were no longer satisfied with cloned products and began searching for different profiles.
We saw a shift in balance and supply. The effectiveness of distribution systems and the development of logistics infrastructure were on the up which meant that shoppers’ access to products bared no limit. The once production-driven market flipped to a marketing-driven economy and the hindrance we once faced with capacity was replaced by the demand for products.
Fast forward to 1995 – Amazon. Today’s largest online retailer and the biggest menace to physical shops. The turn of the century saw a huge breakthrough in the internet world and everywhere we turned we saw Facebook, Twitter, Apple or Samsung. The birth of broadband saw internet settle into every home and company, Google search engine was launched and the physical Apple stores opened. The consumer, now the master, took the reins of shopping power and with everything so easily accessible (and in most cases cheaper) at their fingertips, the once loyal customer was annihilated.