The transformation of retail since the 1950s means traditional vs modern retail stores and the changes have been phenomenal. In the 1950s, before the advent of shopping malls and big-box commercialism, relatively small, locally owned retail establishments were the norm. And, these retail stores operated mostly within small-town America’s downtown “business districts,” which consisted of approximately two city blocks to the north, south, east and west of a central town hall and/or city park. Although, many downtowns–especially those of cities with over 50,000 residents–contained outlets of nationally known retailers like Sears, J. C. Penney and Woolworth’s.
Similarities–between 1950s retailers and today’s–are few, the most significant being “specials,” or “sales” days, on weekends or just before major holidays. These sales, as is common now, would be advertised in local newspapers. However, the phrase “just before holidays” is itself significant, as most 1950s retailers closed before 6 PM Monday through Friday, were open from about 8 AM to 5 PM on Saturdays, and were completely shuttered Sundays and all major, religious holidays!
Another similarity between today’s 10,000-square-foot retail extravaganzas–and the bigger stores of the 1950s–is layout into “departments” or sections containing similar merchandise. But, here is where major likenesses end.
Today, a retail manager (seldom is an owner and manager the same person)–unless his store is within easy driving distance of densely populated residential neighborhoods replete with retirees–seldom gets to intimately know his customers the way an owner (usually also the day-to-day manager) did in the 50s. Lowly deli proprietors back then knew the “family backgrounds” and the merchandise likes/dislikes of the customers they served every week.
The following descriptions summarize scores of other differences:
1) Very personal, one-on-one customer service made the 1950s shopping experience unique. A sales lady, usually, quickly approached an entering customer and offered help. Today’s “service” at big-box stores (notably Walmart) consists of a customer searching to find an employee knowledgeable enough to answer detailed questions, especially regarding appliances. Thankfully national, “select” retail chains, such as Penney’s and Sears, have–over the past 5 years–become more adept at hiring knowledgeable, helpful sales staff.
2) Clean carpeting, windows, restrooms (if they existed for public use) tile floors and well dressed sales help were the norm, as far as “decorating” went, in the mom n’ pop retail establishments of the 50s. Bigger, chain-type stores had smartly dressed and positioned window manikins, fancier window drapes and carpeting, and chandelier-type lighting. Even at this, they couldn’t compete with today’s wide aisles brightly lit and cleverly displaying daily-use merchandise along the edges, or with today’s 2,000-square-foot merchandise sections with brightly colored and boldly printed signage that can’t be missed. In the 50s, the sales person nearest the front and only door would have “escorted” the customer to locate diverse merchandise. There were few, if any, department signs.
3) Marketing in the 1950s, as was mentioned previously, consisted of newspaper reminders for upcoming “sales.” Few, if any, coupons existed, and those that did (exist) would have been “handout out” personally, by salespeople–or by the owner himself–to longtime, faithful customers. Today’s e-mail computer/tablet/phone notifications regarding sales–plus coupons that can be printed at home–offer a “most clever customer wins” buying experience that can be more exciting, than calm and leisurely. The word “calm” describes shopping in by-gone days.
Marketing was “low key” and “basic” then because many products that were locally purchased were also locally produced within states themselves. Choices were “limited,” and most buyers were those who’d survived World War II and the Great Depression. So, they were content with less.
In the 50s, outstanding service would have “encouraged” a customer to praise the store to his friends and neighbors–whom he, or she, saw regularly at church, service clubs or “coffee klatches.” Retail prices were very comparable back then. The “difference” would have been in the “service experience.” Did the grocery owner order employees to carry your bags to your car and stack them neatly in your trunk? Did the butcher slice the meat in front of you, and to your exact specifications?
These days, customers who are immensely busy demand “the best value at the best price” round-the-clock, and a myriad of product choices that can be quickly and easily “shipped in” from all over the world. But, these customers have moved farther and farther away from cities’ central areas. Now, malls and shopping centers must provide a more diverse, enticing-to-the-sense and cost competitive retail milieu.
Contact us for detailed, accurate information about the types of customers who frequent your retail outlet today. We can help you to maximize their shopping experiences!