Levinson’s story on A&P is compelling for the subject, but even more as it details the expansion of the grocery industry in the USA, highlighting how innovations such as the cardboard box and tin can sowed the seeds for the broad assortments we see today. It was during the stroll back in history through Alexander’s The Emergence of Modern Retailing 1750-1950 it struck me that while things change, they stay the same. Struggles with out of stocks, customer service, credit, advertising, and any other current problems were facts of life centuries ago.
As transportation and communications systems enabled merchants to expand beyond single store operations, another problem was born: owners could no longer know their customers like they used to. What to sell to whom? How to manage the brand? Or how about the tobacco merchants who had to contend with the advent of pre-packaged options sold by general stores!
We’re caught up in transformation today, like it’s something new, but retail has always been in a state of flux; perhaps we could all learn from lessons of the past – if not what to do, but at least to expect that tomorrow could be a very different world.