The Evolution of Retail Shopping

Retail shopping has been around for years. Even before money was invented, people have been practicing exchanges for goods and services. But the way we shop has changed tremendously; long gone are the days of waiting for catalogs to come in the mail, or even having to drive to a store to purchase an item.

To fully appreciate retail shopping for what it is today, let’s take a closer look at its evolution.

How Retail Shopping Has Evolved

Bartering And The Rise Of Specialty Shopping

Dating back to 600 B.C., we’ve seen evidence of some of the earliest trades and barters among Mesopotamian tribes with hand-to-hand transactions in open air. Vendors would bring their specialty products to open-air markets and put them on display for shoppers to purchase.

This, later on, moved indoors, with specialty shops popping up in towns. Looking for shoes? Head to the local cobbler shop. Specialty shops still exist, but they are declining in popularity because of their lack of convenience

Enter the Department Store

Department stores came to the scene during the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. Because goods were made quickly and cheaply, stores were able to stock up on products instead of fabricating them one by one. The Industrial Revolution also gave way to a growing middle class with disposable income, that could leisurely stroll through their aisles to purchase the latest innovations and goods.

The Catalog Revolution

Knock, knock. Who’s there? Your local vacuum cleaner salesman, would you like to take a look at my latest models? Here’s my catalog.

Catalog shopping also dates back to the mid-1800s thanks to a reliable mail system coming into place in most of the developed world, marking an important shift in the way we shop: Products can come to the shopper, instead of the shopper having to go out to the store. Catalogs were a great strategy to expand clientele and expose products to new consumers that were not necessarily actively seeking out their product. People would mail in their orders with the payment and it would be delivered straight to your door.

In addition to direct door-to-door sales, catalog shopping was also supported by traditional advertising through radio, newspapers, and later on, TV, creating additional awareness and driving purchases.

Antiquated as it may seem, this important shift in the way we shop set the base for online shopping as we know it today.

The New Hot Spot (not WiFi)... Shopping Malls

With catalogs diversifying the shopping experience from only being able to purchase a specialty product at the time to many different types of products, physical stores also started to evolve in this sense. During the second half of the 20th century, retail shopping shifted from multiple trips around town to a centralized location where you could get everything you needed.

The Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota was the first enclosed shopping mall built in the United States. For the next fifty years, people would flock to shopping centers to buy everything from clothes to home goods to sports gear. In addition to providing a convenient way to shop for many items at once, malls also turned into a social gathering center where families and teenagers could gather to walk around, share a meal and catch the latest blockbusters in movie theaters.

The rise of online shopping marked the decline of malls with many closing their doors in the last decade or so. Department stores that were not able to transition to an online business model are also shutting down.

A Whole New Online World of Commerce

Hello Internet! After the dot-com boom, product manufacturers took another tremendous leap on how they were able to offer their products to a large and diverse consumer base. The world literally opened up for retail… You can now get handmade quilts, fruit baskets, auto parts, toilet paper, you name it and it’s just a click away. Major overhauls to the mailing and shipping industries meant faster shipping times, enabling online commerce to compete (and many times win) with brick and mortar stores.

Once e-commerce was established, retailers started diversifying their channels to include mobile apps, social media selling, even providing tailor-made experiences based on your past online activity, demographics and preferences. It’s safe to say that online commerce is here to stay and has set the base for future generations to push the limits of how we shop and interact with brands.

The Next Evolution... Voice Commerce

The next frontier is voice. Still in its very beginnings, we’re setting the path right now for what will be the future of retail. At the moment, Amazon is the only retailer poised to complete purchase transactions through voice, but we trust this won’t be the case for very long. Nevertheless, businesses everywhere are listening up and gearing up for what will be the next transformative landmark in commerce.

Even if you don’t foresee your customers being able to purchase your products or services through voice just yet, making good use of schema markups will help position your business for voice search, an important first step.

Are you ready to learn more about how to leverage voice in your business?

wayfinding consultants

Check out  Discovered: Dominate online and voice search without wasting time or money

Discovered is the first book of it's kind written for business leaders to understand how to leverage expert techniques to stand out in online and on voice search.

About the Author Bethanie Nonami

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