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The Wonderful World of the Department Store in Historical Perspective: A

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The Wonderful World of the Department Store in Historical Perspective: A

Comprehensive International Bibliography,

Partially Annotated


Robert D. Tamilia PhD

Professor of Marketing

Department of Marketing

École des sciences de la gestion

University of Quebec at Montreal

Revised and updated periodically (Last update: July, 2011)

Note: The following short introduction to the department store was first written when this bibliographical project was initiated by the author in 2000. Since then, the introduction has been updated but is still incomplete. Over the past 10 years, new information sources on the department store have been found which makes it near impossible to summarize in this introduction the history of this retail institution which evolved over time along with the history of retailing. The wealth of information on the department store over the past 150 years is quite impressive especially since the 1970s when historical research in the social sciences became increasing popular among historians of all stripes but less so in academic marketing. A more complete introduction to the wonderful world of department store can be found in Tamilia (2003) and Tamilia and Reid (2007).

Abstract The paper has two main objectives. The first is to provide a short summary of what the department store is all about. There is a need to discuss its historical role not only in marketing and retailing, but also in society and the world in general. The next objective is to provide social historians and other historical researchers with the most comprehensive and complete reference list on the department store ever compiled. Many references listed are annotated by the author and the comments made reflect the author’s reading and research interests. The department store was one of society’s most innovative and influential institutions of the late 19th century and contributed to the many ways to do business, notably from the mid 1800s to the 1930s. The department store contributed to the culture of consumption and even to the development of the modern shopping center with almost everything under one roof. It is hoped that this short introduction to the wonderful world of the department store will stimulate more research, especially among marketing scholars. The resource materials listed in the paper illustrate the tremendous contributions made by historians and other social researchers toward a better understanding of this great icon of consumer culture. Given that the study of the department store or that historical research is not part of mainstream academic marketing, it hoped that the paper will make academic marketers wonder why so many outside the marketing discipline have been studying the department store, a topic so much part of the evolution of the marketing discipline.

Key words

Department store, history, marketing, retailing, consumption, culture, innovation, merchant


Cet article poursuit deux objectifs. Le premier est d’introduire le lecteur au monde merveilleux des grands magasins du point de vue historique et internationale, et de situer l’importance du sujet non seulement dans la discipline du marketing et dans la société mais aussi l’impact que cette innovation a eu pour le monde entier. L’autre objectif est de fournir aux historiens-chercheurs la liste la plus complète de références existantes sur les grands magasins, avec des annotations dans de nombreux cas. Le grand magasin fut l’une des institutions les plus innovatrices et les plus importantes pour le monde des affaires en Occident surtout du milieu du 19e siècle jusqu’à 1930. Le grand magasin a donné naissance à la culture de la consommation et même au centre commercial moderne selon le principe «tout sous le même toit». Non seulement le marketing contemporain n’a pas encore découvert ce domaine de recherche, mais l’importance même des recherches historiques en marketing préoccupe que très peu de chercheurs. L’auteur espère que cette courte introduction stimulera d’autres recherches sur les grands magasins, surtout parmi les chercheurs en marketing. En effet, ce sont les autres sciences humaines et de gestion que proviennent la très grande majorité des écrits sur le sujet, et ce, depuis les trente dernières années. L’auteur formule le vœu que cet article amènera une conscientisation plus grande chez les gens de marketing face à un domaine de réflexion qui relève de la discipline même du marketing.


Mots clés

Grands magasins, histoire, marketing, commerce de détail, consommation, culture, innovation,



The Wonderful World of the Department Store in Historical Perspective: A Comprehensive International Bibliography, Partially Annotated

Up to now, the manufacturing sector and the government have been seen as the main primary generators of technological innovation within our economy. The bio-pharmaceutical, electronics and telecommunications industries, among others, are seen as the movers and shakers and the major contributors of new things to our economy. In general, such innovations are viewed as a means to bettering our society and increase the quality and quantity of life. That is why billions of dollars are spent each year in the hope that new products will make society more productive, wealthier and perhaps happier. However, my contention is too much attention is focused on the production side of the economy as the only sector that can bring about economic growth, productivity increases and prosperity. Other sectors of our economy, notably retailing or the distribution sector of the economy, also contribute significantly to technological innovation. Despite this contribution, however, over the centuries, retail merchants have been labeled as unproductive, responsible for high prices and at times, unresponsive to consumer needs. One need only look at the Wal-Mart effect to realize that even today retailers are often not perceived as contributors to the betterment of human kind (Lichtenstein 2006).

The retailing community, as member of our economic system, has been as innovative as any others. The technological and managerial contributions of the department store, as members of the consumption side of our economy are quite extraordinary. The rise of the department store from the 1850s to the end of 19th century and early part of the 20th c. was nothing short of a major revolution, not only for business but also for all of society. In fact, what the department store did for the economy and consumers was as dramatic and as far reaching as any other major innovation the world has ever known. No wonder we can safely say that the department store was marketing’s contribution to the Industrial Revolution.

The department store affected every facet of social and economic life through being a very entrepreneurial and innovative institution. The department store contributed directly and/or indirectly (as a major change agent) to the adoption of numerous new technological innovations. Its channel impact, both upstream and downstream the distribution chain, revolutionized the retail store itself, the shopping experience, availability and assortment of goods, credit policies, price awareness, media and promotional techniques, and was a major contributor to new managerial techniques from hiring practices to inventory control procedures (Savitt 1992, 1999). In fact, the


department store was perhaps the very first American business to use mechanical data processing equipment for sales analysis and other managerial needs (Forsell and Poole 1928). Some department stores through their catalogue divisions (Marshall Field, Eaton’s of Canada) brought the world of goods to rural areas and farmers, especially in the U.S. and Canada. Other retailers, such as Sears, began as catalogue retailers only and morphed into the department store business only later on. For Sears, it was only around 1925 when the first fixed store location was opened to the public. Whatever their origin, such retailers helped establish mail delivery and parcel post serving rural consumers. Most people in the 19th century lived in rural areas as farmers. The availability of such retailers to rural consumers accelerated modernization not only in household goods but in farming equipment as well which narrowed the cultural gap (i.e. life style) which has existed from time immemorial between those living in rural communities and those in living densely populated urban areas.

The sheer size of the department store required the use of new building materials, glass technology, new heating, cooling and lighting devices, and in-store people movement, which led to new store design, among other engineering and architectural innovations. The store layouts made shopping easier for consumers irrespective of their social or economic background. The department store also offered new customer services never before seen retail establishments such as restaurants, restrooms, reading and writing rooms, home delivery, wrapping services, health care services, art exhibitions, music appreciation, post office, travel services, funeral services, convenient store hours, new types of merchandise displays, and so forth. In other words, a one-stop shopping experience with everything under one roof.

The department store was one of society’s most democratic institutions and was a major force toward a more egalitarian society, especially for women. No wonder many social historians and feminist researchers firmly believe the department store liberated women and gave some women their rightful place in society. The department store made jobs available to women and opened new career opportunities, such as the professional fields, and even in politics. The department store changed society’s values in accepting that women could go and shop on their own without being accompanied by others. Before, very few places were available (such as a museum, the park, and certain leisure activities), where it was socially and morally acceptable for a woman to be seen in public on her own. It is no wonder that department store owners offered so many services to them so that they could shop at their leisure, eat, relax and even be entertained during their stay.


This department store as a social institution was also instrumental in the mass production and selling of ready to wear clothes (e.g. shirts, pants, underwear, dresses, and coats) and many household items, including appliances such as the bicycle, the refrigerator, and many small electric appliances ranging from the toaster, the curling iron and even the radio. The first radio broadcasts were done by department stores and the first to promote short songs other than just classical music. The department store was one of the first large businesses, if not the first, at least in North America, to make full use of the principles of vertical integration (i.e. backward integration from retailing to wholesaling and into manufacturing).

The department store evolved as the precursor of the modern shopping center with everything under one roof. Not only did the department store eventually give birth to the shopping center. The need to supply, control and manage water, heat, light, waste, and the movement of goods and people in such large numbers and in such huge buildings, forced engineers and architects to design the building using new materials and equipment. Thus, the department store of the mid to the late 1800s was in fact a contributing factor to the building of the modern skyscraper. Cities such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston became world famous and still are, and it no coincidence that the department store built in those cities were by far the most modern, the most luxurious and the biggest stores the world had ever seen (i.e. Macy’s, Marshall Field, A.T. Stewart, Wanamaker, Filene). No wonder they were called cathedrals and even palaces of consumption (Benson 1979, Crossick and Jaumain 1999). Even today, Macy’s in downtown New York still claims to be the biggest store in the world.

The department store democratized consumption and had a major influence on values and urban lifestyles. The use of credit was one reason why the department store rose to such a level of importance in society, from its modest beginnings in the 1850s to its golden age in the 1920s. For example, by the end of the 19th century, Georges Dufayel, a French credit merchant, had served up to 3 million customers and was affiliated with La Samaritaine, a large French department store established in 1870 by a former Bon Marché executive. This is not meant to imply that the French “invented” the consumer installment plan. In fact, the Singer Sewing Company was one of the first firms in America to offer installment credit back in 1856 (Jensen and Davidson 1984). It remains to be seen what role other French department stores, American, Canadian ones and other stores played in democratizing consumer credit by issuing credit cards and establishing a consumer credit culture.


The department store emerged at a time and place in history as a result of mass urbanization and industrialization occurring in major cities at the end of the 19th century not only in Paris and New York, but also in Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Chicago, Detroit and many other cities all over the world. The downtown area provided a huge concentration of people and industry in a centralized core, which at first evolved from a residential area, then to a wholesale district. The downtown area of many large cities specialized first in the wholesaling, such as Hamilton and Montreal, until later when manufacturing became more important than wholesale. Today, the CBDs of large cities are serve the financial and entertainment needs of the population with office buildings, restaurants, hotels, along with many other service-based businesses. Wholesaling and manufacturing establishments have long since departed the city core and have located outside due to costly land prices and the need for more space. Vertical expansion for factories or warehouses is no longer the trend as was the case then. Even department stores of today and retail stores in general forego vertical expansion. This raises an important issue related to the survival of the traditional department store located in the city’s downtown core. Consumers are no longer willing to go the 8th floor in search of merchandise. This explains in part why many department stores located downtown simply could not survive. Moreover, the growth of suburbs, especially after WW2, proved to be one more reason of the traditional department store’s downfall. But the department store is still with us! One need only look at any Wal-Mart or Target store to realize it has not disappeared.

The department store was from its inception innovative, progressive and ready to tackle new challenges. But over time, the department store lost its competitive edge to new forms of urban retailers, which were more specialized in product assortment. Madison (1976) explains it very clearly:

The competitive position of department stores weakened during the 1920s not only as a consequence of the emergence of the new retailers but also because of the changing structure of cities. The compact, centralized 19th century city with its mass transit lines converging on the downtown was a perfect environment for department store growth (page 103).

La Samaritaine closed its doors in Paris in 2003, similar to many other retail giants of the past located in Canada (Eaton’s, Woodward’s) and the U.S. (Lazarus, Hudson’s). The decline of the downtown department store is not a recent event. It actually dates back to the early part of the 1930s when the numerous services offered by such stores affected their profitability. The decline


of the department store reached a crisis stage, at least in Canada, the U.S., and in Europe in1980s and beyond. Many traditional department stores simply disappeared from the retail landscape. Others joined large department store chains, some keeping their original names, while other adopting well known store names such as Macy’s.

Reference Sources

The following list of references on department stores is interdisciplinary. It contains references from many fields, including architecture, construction and engineering, social history, retailing, urban planning, feminism, business and economic history, and so forth.

There were specific trade publications devoted almost entirely to merchandising practices and the department store. For example, The Dry Goods Economist started to publish articles on the department store around 1887. It was one of the first U.S. trade publications that reported on the department store industry not only in the U.S. but all over the world. It changed its name to the Department Store Economist in 1937. It then changed name again to the Department Store Manager in 1938. The Department Store Manager ceased publication in 1972 and changed its name to Retail Directions. There were also trade publications called Department Store Management (1968), Merchants Trade Journal, Department Store Buyer (1938) which had mix success and a short life cycle. Given all these names and the fact that these trade publications’ main focus was on the department store, it is impossible in this reference list to present all the articles ever written in them from 1897 until the latest issue of the Retail Directions. The National Retail Dry Goods Association published a Bulletin and it became more regular by 1925. The NRDGA established in 1911 with 37 members, which represented 10% of all U.S. department stores particularly the larger and medium sized ones. By late 1919 and early 1920, 1362 stores belonged, thanks in part to the yearly convention, and the support given to Lucinda Prince in 1913 (Benson 1986). The National Retail Merchants Association (NRMA) merged in 1990 with the American Retail Federation to form the world’s largest retail trade group, the National Retail Federation.

The Grey Advertising agency published a newsletter called Grey Matter from 1938. It had a special edition on the department store called Grey Matter, Department Store edition. However, it is not known when this department store edition began or when it ceased publication. There were also other trade publications that presented article on retail merchandising practices of the department store such as The Show Window, a trade publication founded by Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz. This trade magazine had a short history from 1897 to 1903. It changed its name in 1903 to Merchants Record and Show Window until 1938. A new trade journal appeared in 1922, called Display World and in 1938, the Merchants Record merged with


it. Display World published until 1974 to become today’s Visual Merchandising. There were also other trade publications such as the Dry Goods Chronicle and The Department Store.

Without a doubt, more non-business academic authors have discussed the topic of the department store than academics in business, and in particular in marketing. Most department stores researchers are either social or business historians, and very few, if any, are members of the mainstream academic marketing community.

The list also contains a large number of references written in the French language but not in other languages, which is unfortunate. The French were pioneers in the creation of the department store; but others also made contributions as well such as the British and Germans. However, my knowledge of languages other than French and English prevented me from adding such “foreign language” references.

Department stores first appeared in the mid-1800s in America and Europe, as mostly dry goods stores which later were organized by departments due to the increasing assortment of goods offered. Some believe that when a retail store became organized and managed by departments it gave birth to the department store as a new and innovative retail institution and some literature supports this contention. I do not for many reasons, as explained in my paper (Tamilia 2005). The creation of new retail institution cannot be based on just one innovative way of doing business but on a multiple factors. Still later in the late 1800s, department store added an even greater assortment of goods and services including furniture, carpets, kitchen goods, toys, and so forth, and soon evolved as the precursor of the modern shopping center with everything under one roof. They were thus quite revolutionary and they represented a major social innovation, not just a business one.

In fact, it is fair to say that the department store was a major force in creating a culture of consumption for the world, not only in America but in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere as well. They had systemic impact not only as part of the distribution sector of the economy with their innovative and modern management practices, but on society as well. After all, the department store was a major choice for most consumers who wanted to learn more about the world through the assortment of products the world offered, and through the art exhibits, concerts, and other entertainment avenues offered inside such stores at the time when world travel and transportation were out of reach to the average consumer. Consumers were exposed to new goods and services


and new art form as well. As a result, it would be rather myopic if only marketing/business references were included in this list, given the tremendous influence the department stores have had on the daily lives of so many people.

As a result, it is only natural to include references from cultural anthropology and sociology, among others. Moreover, those authors who deal with the study of material culture also need to be included. After all, what is material culture if not the acquisition of consumer goods sold through retail stores, notably department stores?

Department stores have had a major influence on values and urban lifestyles, because they democratized consumption. The store layouts were such that most consumers, irrespective of their social or economic background, would find something to their liking. They were free to enter the store and browse without any obligation on their part to buy more so in the USA and Canada but less so in Europe. This freedom to browse and even touch goods was most evident in U.S. stores and not in European ones. Even today, a U.S. or a Canadian consumer will have greater freedom to gain access to goods before buying than elsewhere in the world. Returned goods, for instance, are so commonplace in retailing here to the degree seldom seen in other parts of the world.

The term “window shopping” became a common expression for the masses. In fact, the term in French is rather more evocative and even sensual (lèche vitrine), implying that consumers would literally “lick” the display cases or plate glass. Truly, this is an indication of consumers’ love affair with material culture.

Over 150,000 people would shop at Macy’s in the early 1900. Some authors have actually stated that up to 200,000 people per day would shop at Marshall Field in Chicago in the early 1900s. Beauregard (1972) estimated that the Eaton store in downtown Montreal located on Ste. Catherine Street had on the average from 30,000 to 50,000 of shoppers per day and the largest one day total was 100,000.

Macy’s of New York had the largest square footage building in the United States with over one million square feet, larger that any industrial plants in existence at the time. The largest employers of the time were department stores and not manufacturers as is often assumed and their sales level far surpassed that of most industrial giants of the time. For e.g., IBM sales were less


than $50 million pre 1950, while sales at Macy’s in the 1920s or even A.T. Stewart in 1875 were much higher.

The spread of new technological household goods also benefited from department stores, as they were often the first ones (and the only ones in many cases) to offer such goods to a mass market. For example, Palmer (1934, page 47) reported sales in 1933 of 500,000 vacuum cleaners, 2 million electric clocks, 300,000 heating pads, 65,000 ironing machines, 2 million hand irons, 350,000 food mixers, 60,000 electric oil burners, 1 million electric fridges, 800,000 electric toasters, and one million washing machines.

Department stores created much excitement in the field of architecture due to their design and use of innovative building materials and styles. As a result, references on architecture and construction are included which makes this bibliography the very first one ever to include such information sources. Department stores were also very artistic and they were seen even as an art form. In fact, department stores and art form blended very well due to buyers bringing goods from all over the world and creating an in-store culture or country theme displays.

Some references are also added that discuss the role of World's fairs, also known as International Exhibitions, especially those from the 1850s to the mid 1930s. Such fairs held in such cities as Paris, London, Brussels, Chicago, New York, St Louis, San Francisco, and many others were a source of inspiration and ideas for owners of department stores. It gave them a chance to see new goods, as well as new ideas for store design, and new ways to display goods in their stores (i.e. visual merchandising). Many early department stores owners traveled all over the world to these international fairs and established buying offices. In fact, not only was department store one of the first, if not the first, in our economy to take advantage of vertically integration but also department store merchants were much involved in international business, mainly as importers, even before most manufacturers of the time.

Many department stores were the largest importers of goods such as A.T. Stewart, Marshall Field, Macy's, Eaton’s of Canada, among others. Stewart was in fact the USA’s largest importer in the 1860s. Many department stores had a large number of foreign buying offices (Stewart, Eaton's, Macy's, Marshall Field, Wanamaker). Moreover, the department store was a major source of employment for the population at that time. Macy’s and many other department stores were the nation’s largest employers, far surpassing those working in manufacturing.


Not only was the department store the largest importer or employer of the time but the department store was also the business that had the largest amount of sales. It has been estimated that A.T Stewart’s sales in 1865 were $50 million. Lossing (1884) says that in 1876, Stewart’s sales “in the two establishments are said to have amounted to $203,000,000 in three years” (p. 417). This means that Stewart’s total sales (both retail and wholesale) were, on the average, close to $70 million per year in the last 3 years.

These numbers make more sense when looking at population statistics. For example, New York City had a population of 900,000 in 1865, while Paris had close to 2 million people in 1886. The population of Chicago was quite modest in the mid to late 1800s but grew to over 3½ million by 1920. Let us not forget that the wave of immigrants that hit the USA from 1880 up to the 1920s proved to be a bonanza for department stores, with over 13 million immigrants coming to America in just the first 15 years of the 20th century alone. These new Americans settled mostly in large urban cities, such as New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.

Labor issues (hours of work, pay scale, fines to employees, holidays, workers’ health care, and pension plans) and the working conditions of employees, notably women, also need to be addressed. In fact, it would be fair to say that department stores were very innovative in the way they treated their employees (such a statement needs further research). However, it is also true, at least initially, the department store was notorious for the way it treated its employees. For example, if a worker was seen as sitting down during working hours, she was fined and the amount was deducted from her paycheck. Many department stores had a list of such offences (Lancaster 1995). The department store also demanded that its female workers be single. If she married during her employment or her employer discovered she was married, she would automatically be fired. The prevailing attitude at the time was that a woman should not take employment away from a man, given that he was the only breadwinner of the family. Of course, if a woman was abandoned by her husband or was widowed, a welfare system was non existent at the time, and she was left to fend on her own.

It is no surprise to learn that there were many prostitutes in the late 1800s in Paris, New York, Chicago, Toronto and Montreal, among other major cities. In fact, there is no doubt that many female workers in department stores were also prostitutes to supplement their low wages (Parent-Lardeur 1970, Williams 1982, Malino 1996, and Rappaport 1996). Needless to say, reference


material on how department stores affected the lives of workers, especially working women, are included in this list.

Since the late 1970s, numerous books have been published on the history of particular department stores, notably those in the U.S. Given the large number of such books ranging from Bloomingdale’s, Dillard’s, Hudson’s, Jordan Marsh, Burdine’s, Lord and Taylor, Beck’s, Hudson’s of Detroit, and so many others, it has become quite a challenge to study those books to see if any new insights can be gained by studying the origin, evolution, or the managerial and marketing techniques of such stores as they developed into successful businesses. Such books no doubt can provide an intriguing accumulation of facts as to why many have ceased operation, or what some stores are now doing in their attempt to redefine themselves in order to survive in today’s highly fragmented and competitive retail market which is now more global than ever.

A number of references are also included that discuss the so-called department store disease, called kleptomania, a disorder diagnosed in the mid 1800s as a psychiatric or psychological disease, affecting mostly women (Miller 1981, O’Brien 1983, Abelson 1989, Camhi 1993, and Spiekermann 1999). Today, we simply call such behavior not a disease but theft or shoplifting. In a sense, the department store, by its process of democratization, made people more aware of the existence of a wide range of consumers goods known previously mostly by the noble and the rich. The department store put these goods on display within reach for the world to see and of course to want.

In brief, the department store was not only an innovation for marketing and business as a new form of retail institution but an innovation for all of society. The department store affected every facet of social and economic life. That is why the list includes references from many sources and it is believed to be the only one of its kind ever prepared. Of course, not all references listed were read or studied by the author. That would be an impossible task given the vast amount of published material.

The author encountered many instances were references were incorrectly cited. The title was either incomplete or dates of publication were incorrect or pages were not cited. Many references date from the late 1800s to early 1900s. As a result, many libraries that were consulted did not have access to such material. Consequently, it was not possible for the author to verify their accuracy. We will need to accept them at face value for the time being. As stated early, the


references are mostly from English sources. However, a fair number are also from French sources (i.e. France and Canada). After all, Parisian department stores (Au Bon Marché, la Samaritaine, les Galleries Lafayette, Au Printemps, etc.) influenced the department store phenomenon in Europe (UK, Scotland, Ireland), and even in America and elsewhere (Australia and Asia).

A final note about the completeness of the reference list. The demise of Eaton’s of Canada in 1999, once the most important retailer in Canada, provided a unique opportunity for the business press. Journalists of all stripes produced a rather large number of short articles in magazines and columns in newspapers. Some of these references are included here, but many are not, for reason of economy. However, the author has compiled a list that deals exclusively with Eaton’s, the Canadian department store chain, and these references can be obtained by contacting the author.

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