Department store

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Interior of Le Bon Marche in Paris Bon Marche, Paris - interior view.JPG
Interior of Le Bon Marché in Paris

A department store is a retail establishment offering a wide range of consumer goods in different areas of the store, each area ("department") specializing in a product category. In modern major cities, the department store made a dramatic appearance in the middle of the 19th century, and permanently reshaped shopping habits, and the definition of service and luxury. Similar developments were under way in London (with Whiteleys), in Paris (Le Bon Marché) and in New York (Stewart's). [1]


Today, departments often include the following: clothing, cosmetics, do it yourself, furniture, gardening, hardware, home appliances, houseware, paint, sporting goods, toiletries, and toys. Additionally, other lines of products such as food, books, jewellery, electronics, stationery, photographic equipment, baby products, and products for pets are sometimes included. Customers generally check out near the front of the store in discount department stores, while high-end traditional department stores include sales counters within each department. Some stores are one of many within a larger retail chain, while others are independent retailers.

Since the 1980s, they have come under heavy pressure from discounters, and have come under even heavier pressure from e-commerce sites since the 2000s.


Sokos department store building in Multimaki, Kuopio, Finland Kuopion Sokos2 - Haapaniemenkatu 24-26 - Multimaki - Kuopio - m.jpg
Sokos department store building in Multimäki, Kuopio, Finland

Department stores can be classified in several ways:

Some sources may refer to the following types of stores as department stores, even they are not generally considered as such:


Origins in England, 1700s

One of the first department stores may have been Bennett's in Derby, first established as an ironmonger (hardware shop) in 1734. [7] It still stands to this day, trading in the same building. However, the first reliably dated department store to be established, was Harding, Howell & Co., which opened in 1796 on Pall Mall, London. [8] (The oldest department store chain may be Debenhams, which was established in 1778 and closed in 2021. It is the longest trading defunct British retailer.) An observer writing in Ackermann's Repository , a British periodical on contemporary taste and fashion, described the enterprise in 1809 as follows:

The house is one hundred and fifty feet in length from front to back, and of proportionate width. It is fitted up with great taste, and is divided by glazed partitions into four departments, for the various branches of the extensive business, which is there carried on. Immediately at the entrance is the first department, which is exclusively appropriated to the sale of furs and fans. The second contains articles of haberdashery of every description, silks, muslins, lace, gloves, &etc. In the third shop, on the right, you meet with a rich assortment of jewelry, ornamental articles in ormolu, French clocks, &etc.; and on the left, with all the different kinds of perfumery necessary for the toilette. The fourth is set apart for millinery and dresses; so that there is no article of female attire or decoration, but what may be here procured in the first style of elegance and fashion. This concern has been conducted for the last twelve years by the present proprietors who have spared neither trouble nor expense to ensure the establishment of a superiority over every other in Europe, and to render it perfectly unique in its kind. [9]

This venture is described as having all of the basic characteristics of the department store; it was a public retail establishment offering a wide range of consumer goods in different departments. Jonathan Glancey for the BBC writes:

Harding, Howell & Co was focused on the needs and desires of fashionable women. Here, at last women were free to browse and shop, safely and decorously, away from home and from the company of men. These, for the main part, were newly affluent middle class women, their good fortune – and the department store itself – nurtured and shaped by the Industrial Revolution. This was transforming life in London and the length and breadth of Britain at a dizzying pace on the back of energetic free trade, fecund invention, steam and sail, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of expendable cheap labour. [10]

This pioneering shop was closed down in 1820 when the business partnership was dissolved. All the major high streets in British cities had flourishing department stores by the mid-or late nineteenth century. Increasingly, women became the main customers. [11] Kendals (formerly Kendal Milne & Faulkner) in Manchester lays claim to being one of the first department stores and is still known to many of its customers as Kendal's, despite its 2005 name change to House of Fraser. The Manchester institution dates back to 1836 but had been trading as Watts Bazaar since 1796. [12] At its zenith the store had buildings on both sides of Deansgate linked by a subterranean passage "Kendals Arcade" and an art nouveau tiled food hall. The store was especially known for its emphasis on quality and style over low prices giving it the nickname "the Harrods of the North", although this was due in part to Harrods acquiring the store in 1919. Harrods of London can be traced back to 1834, though the current store was built between 1894 and 1905. Liberty & Co. gained popularity in the 1870s for selling Oriental goods. [13] In 1889 Oscar Wilde wrote "Liberty's is the chosen resort of the artistic shopper". [14]

Origins in Parisian magasins de nouveautés

Au Bon Marche Au Bon Marche (vue generale - gravure).jpg
Au Bon Marché

The Paris department stores have roots in the magasin de nouveautés, or novelty store; the first, the Tapis Rouge, was created in 1784. [15] They flourished in the early 19th century. Balzac described their functioning in his novel César Birotteau . In the 1840s, with the arrival of the railroads in Paris and the increased number of shoppers they brought, they grew in size, and began to have large plate glass display windows, fixed prices and price tags, and advertising in newspapers. [16]

A novelty shop called Au Bon Marché had been founded in Paris in 1838 to sell items like lace, ribbons, sheets, mattresses, buttons, and umbrellas. It grew from 300 m2 (3,200 sq ft) and 12 employees in 1838 to 50,000 m2 (540,000 sq ft) and 1,788 employees in 1879. Boucicaut was famous for his marketing innovations; a reading room for husbands while their wives shopped; extensive newspaper advertising; entertainment for children; and six million catalogs sent out to customers. By 1880 half the employees were women; unmarried women employees lived in dormitories on the upper floors. [17]

Au Bon Marché soon had half a dozen or more competitors including Printemps, founded in 1865; La Samaritaine (1869), Bazaar de Hotel de Ville (BHV); and Galeries Lafayette (1895). [16] [18] The French gloried in the national prestige brought by the great Parisian stores. [19] The great writer Émile Zola (1840–1902) set his novel Au Bonheur des Dames (1882–83) in the typical department store, making it a symbol of the new technology that was both improving society and devouring it. [20]

First Australian department stores

Australia is notable for having the longest continuously operating department store, David Jones. [21] [22] The first David Jones department store was opened on 24 May 1838, by Welsh born immigrant David Jones in a “large and commodious premises” on the corner of George and Barrack Streets in Sydney, NSW, only 50 years after the foundation of the colony. Expanding to a number of stores in the various states of Australia, David Jones is the oldest continuously operating department franchise in the world. [21] Other department stores in Australia include Grace Brothers founded in 1885, now merged with Myer which was founded in 1900. [23]

First American department stores (1825–1858)

Arnold Constable was the first American department store. It was founded in 1825 as a small dry goods store on Pine Street in New York City. In 1857 the store moved into a five-story white marble dry goods palace known as the Marble House. During the Civil War, Arnold Constable was one of the first stores to issue charge bills of credit to its customers each month instead of on a bi-annual basis. The store soon outgrew the Marble House and erected a cast-iron building on Broadway and Nineteenth Street in 1869; this "Palace of Trade" expanded over the years until it was necessary to move into a larger space in 1914. Financial problems led to bankruptcy in 1975. [24]

In New York City in 1846, Alexander Turney Stewart established the "Marble Palace" on Broadway, between Chambers and Reade streets. He offered European retail merchandise at fixed prices on a variety of dry goods, and advertised a policy of providing "free entrance" to all potential customers. Though it was clad in white marble to look like a Renaissance palazzo, the building's cast iron construction permitted large plate glass windows that permitted major seasonal displays, especially in the Christmas shopping season. In 1862, Stewart built a new store on a full city block uptown between 9th and 10th streets, with eight floors. His innovations included buying from manufacturers for cash and in large quantities, keeping his markup small and prices low, truthful presentation of merchandise, the one-price policy (so there was no haggling), simple merchandise returns and cash refund policy, selling for cash and not credit, buyers who searched worldwide for quality merchandise, departmentalization, vertical and horizontal integration, volume sales, and free services for customers such as waiting rooms and free delivery of purchases. [25] In 1858, Rowland Hussey Macy founded Macy's as a dry goods store.

Innovations 1850–1917

Marshall Field's State Street store "great hall" interior around 1910 Marshall field interior.jpg
Marshall Field's State Street store "great hall" interior around 1910

Marshall Field & Company originated in 1852. It was the premier department store on the busiest shopping street in the Midwest at the time, State Street in Chicago. [26] Marshall Field's served as a model for other department stores in that it had exceptional customer service.[ citation needed ] Marshall Field's also had the firsts; among many innovations by Marshall Field's were the first European buying office, which was located in Manchester, England, and the first bridal registry. The company was the first to introduce the concept of the personal shopper, and that service was provided without charge in every Field's store, until the chain's last days under the Marshall Field's name. It was the first store to offer revolving credit and the first department store to use escalators.[ citation needed ] Marshall Field's book department in the State Street store was legendary;[ citation needed ] it pioneered the concept of the "book signing". Moreover, every year at Christmas, Marshall Field's downtown store windows were filled with animated displays as part of the downtown shopping district display; the "theme" window displays became famous for their ingenuity and beauty, and visiting the Marshall Field's windows at Christmas became a tradition for Chicagoans and visitors alike, as popular a local practice as visiting the Walnut Room with its equally famous Christmas tree or meeting "under the clock" on State Street. [27]

In 1877, John Wanamaker opened what some claim was the United States' first "modern" department store in Philadelphia: the first to offer fixed prices marked on every article and also introduced electrical illumination (1878), the telephone (1879), and the use of pneumatic tubes to transport cash and documents (1880) to the department store business. [28]

Aerial view of Anthony Hordern & Sons in Sydney, Australia (1936), once the largest department store in the world. Anthony Hordern and Sons- 20th December 1936 (18832395934).jpg
Aerial view of Anthony Hordern & Sons in Sydney, Australia (1936), once the largest department store in the world.
Selfridges, Oxford Street in London, 1944 Christmas Party For Trooper Devereux's Daughter- Christmas in Wartime, Pinner, Middlesex, December 1944 D23005.jpg
Selfridges, Oxford Street in London, 1944

Another store to revolutionize the concept of the department store was Selfridges in London, established in 1909 by American-born Harry Gordon Selfridge on Oxford Street. The company's innovative marketing promoted the radical notion of shopping for pleasure rather than necessity and its techniques were adopted by modern department stores the world over. The store was extensively promoted through paid advertising. The shop floors were structured so that goods could be made more accessible to customers. There were elegant restaurants with modest prices, a library, reading and writing rooms, special reception rooms for French, German, American and "Colonial" customers, a First Aid Room, and a Silence Room, with soft lights, deep chairs, and double-glazing, all intended to keep customers in the store as long as possible. Staff members were taught to be on hand to assist customers, but not too aggressively, and to sell the merchandise. [29] Selfridge attracted shoppers with educational and scientific exhibits; in 1909, Louis Blériot's monoplane was exhibited at Selfridges (Blériot was the first to fly over the English Channel), and the first public demonstration of television by John Logie Baird took place in the department store in 1925.

Utagawa Hiroshige designed an ukiyo-e print with Mount Fuji and Echigoya as landmarks. Echigoya is the former name of Mitsukoshi named after the former province of Echigo. The Mitsukoshi headquarters are located on the left side of the street. Hiroshige, Sugura street.jpg
Utagawa Hiroshige designed an ukiyo-e print with Mount Fuji and Echigoya as landmarks. Echigoya is the former name of Mitsukoshi named after the former province of Echigo. The Mitsukoshi headquarters are located on the left side of the street.

In Japan, the first "modern-style" department store was Mitsukoshi, founded in 1904, which has its root as a kimono store called Echigoya from 1673. When the roots are considered, however, Matsuzakaya has an even longer history, dated from 1611. The kimono store changed to a department store in 1910. In 1924, Matsuzakaya store in Ginza allowed street shoes to be worn indoors, something innovative at the time. [30] These former kimono shop department stores dominated the market in its earlier history. They sold, or instead displayed, luxurious products, which contributed to their sophisticated atmospheres. Another origin of the Japanese department store is from railway companies. There have been many private railway operators in the nation and, from the 1920s, they started to build department stores directly linked to their lines' termini. Seibu and Hankyu are typical examples of this type.

Innovation (1917–1945)

In the middle of the 1920s, American management theories such as the scientific management of F.W. Taylor started spreading in Europe. The International Management Institute (I.M.I.) was established in Geneva in 1927 to facilitate the diffusion of such ideas. A number of department stores teamed up together to create the International Association of Department Stores in Paris in 1928 to have a discussion space dedicated to this retail format.

Expansion to malls

The U.S. Baby boom led to the development of suburban neighborhoods and suburban commercial developments, including shopping malls. Department stores joined these ventures following the growing market of baby boomer spending.

Expansion worldwide

Current situation

Around the world

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shopping</span> Buying goods

Shopping is an activity in which a customer browses the available goods or services presented by one or more retailers with the potential intent to purchase a suitable selection of them. A typology of shopper types has been developed by scholars which identifies one group of shoppers as recreational shoppers, that is, those who enjoy shopping and view it as a leisure activity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Retail</span> Sale of goods and services from individuals or businesses to the end-user

Retail is the sale of goods and services to consumers, in contrast to wholesaling, which is sale to business or institutional customers. A retailer purchases goods in large quantities from manufacturers, directly or through a wholesaler, and then sells in smaller quantities to consumers for a profit. Retailers are the final link in the supply chain from producers to consumers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Selfridges</span> Department store chain in the United Kingdom

Selfridges, also known as Selfridges & Co., is a chain of high-end department stores in the United Kingdom that is operated by Selfridges Retail Limited, part of the Selfridges Group of department stores. It was founded by Harry Gordon Selfridge in 1908.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Harry Gordon Selfridge</span> Retailer

Harry Gordon Selfridge, Sr. was an American retail magnate who founded the London-based department store Selfridges. His 20-year leadership of Selfridges led to his becoming one of the most respected and wealthy retail magnates in the United Kingdom. He was known as the 'Earl of Oxford Street'.

A discount store or discounter offers a retail format in which products are sold at prices that are in principle lower than an actual or supposed "full retail price". Discounters rely on bulk purchasing and efficient distribution to keep down costs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alexander Turney Stewart</span> American businessman (1803–1876)

Alexander Turney Stewart was an American entrepreneur who moved to New York and made his multimillion-dollar fortune in the most extensive and lucrative dry goods store in the world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wanamaker's</span> United States historic place

John Wanamaker Department Store was one of the first department stores in the United States. Founded by John Wanamaker in Philadelphia, it was influential in the development of the retail industry including as the first store to use price tags. At its zenith in the early 20th century, Wanamaker's also had a store in New York City at Broadway and Ninth Street. Both employed extremely large staffs. By the end of the 20th century, there were 16 Wanamaker's outlets, but after years of change the chain was bought by Albert Taubman, and added to his previous purchase of Woodward & Lothrop, the Washington, D.C., department store. In 1994, Woodies, as it was known, filed for bankruptcy. The assets of Woodies were purchased by the May Company Department Stores and JCPenney. In 1995, Wanamaker's transitioned to Hecht's, one of the May Company brands. In 2006, Macy's Center City became the occupant of the former Philadelphia Wanamaker's Department Store, which is now a National Historic Landmark.

Marshall Field & Company was an upscale department store in Chicago, Illinois. Founded in the 19th century, it grew to become a large chain before Macy's, Inc acquired it in 2005. Its eponymous founder, Marshall Field, was a pioneering retail magnate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Caldor</span> Defunct chain of US discount department stores

Caldor, Inc. was a discount department store chain founded in 1951 by husband and wife Carl and Dorothy Bennett. Referred to by many as the Bloomingdale's of discounting, Caldor grew from a second story "Walk-Up-&-Save" operation in Port Chester, New York into a regional retailing giant. Its stores were earning over $1 billion in sales by the time Mr. Bennett retired in 1985, by which time Caldor was a subsidiary of Associated Dry Goods.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Zayre</span> Defunct discount retailer in the United States

Zayre was a chain of discount stores that operated in the eastern half of the United States from 1956 to 1990. The company's headquarters was in Framingham, Massachusetts. In October 1988, Zayre's parent company, Zayre Corp., sold the stores to the competing Ames Department Stores, Inc. chain, and in June 1989, Zayre Corp. merged with one of its subsidiaries, The TJX Companies, parent company of T.J. Maxx, which still exists today. A number of stores retained the Zayre name until 1990, by which time all stores were either closed or converted into Ames stores.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Big-box store</span> Physically large retail establishment

A big-box store is a physically large retail establishment, usually part of a chain of stores. The term sometimes also refers, by extension, to the company that operates the store. The term "big-box" references the typical appearance of buildings occupied by such stores.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">TJ Maxx</span> Retail chain

TJ Maxx is an American department store chain, selling at prices generally lower than other major similar stores. It has more than 1,000 stores in the United States, making it one of the largest clothing retailers in the country. TJ Maxx is the flagship chain of the TJX Companies. It sells men's, women's and children's apparel and shoes, toys, bath and beauty, accessories, and home products ranging from furniture to kitchen utensils.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lechmere</span> Defunct American retail store chain

Lechmere ( "leech-meer") was a Massachusetts-based chain of retail stores that closed in 1997. At the time of its closing, it had 27 stores, including 20 in New England. The chain offered electronics, appliances, and various household goods. It also had locations in New York and the Southeastern United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Closeout (sale)</span>

A closeout or clearance sale is a discount sale of inventory either by retail or wholesale. It may be that a product is not selling well, or that the retailer is closing because of relocation, a fire, over-ordering, or especially because of bankruptcy. In the latter case, it is usually known as a going-out-of-business sale or liquidation sale, and is part of the process of liquidation. A hail sale is a closeout at a car dealership after hail damage.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aristide Boucicaut</span>

Aristide Boucicaut was a French entrepreneur who created Le Bon Marché, the first modern department store.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Selfridges, Oxford Street</span> Department store in London, England

Selfridges is a Grade II* listed retail premises on Oxford Street in London. It was designed by Daniel Burnham for Harry Gordon Selfridge, and opened in 1909. Still the headquarters of Selfridge & Co. department stores, with 540,000 square feet (50,000 m2) of selling space, the store is the second largest retail premises in the UK. It was named the world's best department store in 2010, and again in 2012.

Off-price is a trading format based on discount pricing. Off-price retailers are independent of manufacturers and buy large volumes of branded goods directly from them. The off-price retail model relies on the purchase of over-produced, or excess, branded goods at a lower price, thus being able to sell to consumers at a discount compared to other stores which purchased an initial run. Among the largest retailers of this type are TJX Companies and Ross Stores. The model is more common in countries that import fashion-oriented or household goods, as the discount role in producer countries is usually filled by factory outlets or small-scale open-air marketplaces.

A junior department store in North America is a type of retailer that experienced growth from the late 1930s through the 1960s, but is no longer common today, as retail moved increasingly towards discount stores like Walmart and Target, and big box off-price stores like Ross Dress For Less, Marshalls and TJ Maxx.

The retail format influences the consumer's store choice and addresses the consumer's expectations. At its most basic level, a retail format is a simple marketplace, that is; a location where goods and services are exchanged. In some parts of the world, the retail sector is still dominated by small family-run stores, but large retail chains are increasingly dominating the sector, because they can exert considerable buying power and pass on the savings in the form of lower prices. Many of these large retail chains also produce their own private labels which compete alongside manufacturer brands. Considerable consolidation of retail stores has changed the retail landscape, transferring power away from wholesalers and into the hands of the large retail chains.

Department stores are an established retail format globally. The format has origins in France, the United Kingdom and United States, among many others.


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Further reading