Retail markets have existed since ancient times. Archaeological evidence for trade, probably involving barter systems, dates back more than 10,000 years. As civilizations grew, barter was replaced with retail trade involving coinage. Selling and buying is thought to have emerged in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) in around the 7th millennium BCE. Gharipour points to evidence of primitive shops and trade centres in Sialk Hills in Kashan (6000 BCE), Catalk Huyuk in modern-day Turkey (7,500-5,700 BCE), Jericho (2600 BCE) and Susa (4000 BCE). Open air, public markets were known in ancient Babylonia, Assyria, Phoenicia and Egypt. These markets typically occupied a place in the town's centre. Surrounding the market, skilled artisans, such as metal-workers and leather workers, occupied permanent premises in alleys that led to the open market-place. These artisans may have sold wares directly from their premises, but also prepared goods for sale on market days. In ancient Greece markets operated within the agora, an open space where, on market days, goods were displayed on mats or temporary stalls. In ancient Rome, trade took place in the forum. Rome had two forums; the Forum Romanum and Trajan's Forum. The latter was a vast expanse, comprising multiple buildings with shops on four levels. The Roman forum was arguably the earliest example of a permanent retail shop-front. In antiquity, exchange involved direct selling via merchants or peddlers and bartering systems were commonplace.
The Phoenicians, noted for their seafaring skills, plied their ships across the Mediterranean, becoming a major trading power by the 9th century BCE. The Phoenicians imported and exported wood, textiles, glass and produce such as wine, oil, dried fruit and nuts. Their trading skills necessitated a network of colonies along the Mediterranean coast, stretching from modern day Crete through to Tangiers and onto Sardinia The Phoenicians not only traded in tangible goods, but were also instrumental in transporting culture. The Phoenician's extensive trade networks necessitated considerable book-keeping and correspondence. In around 1500 BCE, the Phoenicians developed a consonantal alphabet which was much easier to learn that the complex scripts used in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Phoenician traders and merchants were largely responsible for spreading their alphabet around the region. Phoenician inscriptions have been found in archaeological sites at a number of former Phoenician cities and colonies around the Mediterranean, such as Byblos (in present-day Lebanon) and Carthage in North Africa.
In the Graeco-Roman world, the market primarily served the local peasantry. Local producers, who were generally poor, would sell small surpluses from their individual farming activities, purchase minor farm equipment and also buy a few luxuries for their homes. Major producers such as the great estates were sufficiently attractive for merchants to call directly at their farm-gates, obviating the producers' need to attend local markets. The very wealthy landowners managed their own distribution, which may have involved exporting and importing. The nature of export markets in antiquity is well documented in ancient sources and archaeological case studies. The Romans preferred to purchase goods from specific places: oysters from Londinium, cinnamon from a specific mountain in Arabia, and these place-based preferences stimulated trade throughout Europe and the middle East. Markets were also important centres of social life.
The rise of retailing and marketing in England and Europe has been extensively studied, but less is known about developments elsewhere. Nevertheless, recent research suggests that China exhibited a rich history of early retail systems. From as early as 200 BCE, Chinese packaging and branding was used to signal family, place names and product quality, and the use of government imposed product branding was used between 600 and 900 CE. Eckhart and Bengtsson have argued that during the Song Dynasty (960-1127), Chinese society developed a consumerist culture, where a high level of consumption was attainable for a wide variety of ordinary consumers rather than just the elite. The rise of a consumer culture led to the commercial investment in carefully managed company image, retail signage, symbolic brands, trademark protection and sophisticated brand concepts.
In Medieval England and Europe, relatively few permanent shops were to be found; instead customers walked into the tradesman's workshops where they discussed purchasing options directly with tradesmen. In 13th century London, mercers and haberdashers were known to exist and grocers sold "miscellaneous small wares as well as spices and medicines" but fish and other perishables were sold through markets, costermongers, hucksters, peddlers or other type of itinerant vendor.
In the more populous cities, a small number of shops were beginning to emerge by the 13th century. In Chester, a medieval covered shopping arcade represented a major innovation that attracted shoppers from many miles around. Known as "The Rows" this medieval shopping arcade is believed to be the first of its kind in Europe. Fragments of Chester's Medieval Row, which is believed to date to the mid-13th century, can still be found in Cheshire. In the 13th or 14th century, another arcade with several shops was recorded at Drapery Row in Winchester. The emergence of street names such as Drapery Row, Mercer's Lane and Ironmonger Lane in the medieval period suggests that permanent shops were becoming more commonplace.
Medieval shops had little in common with their modern equivalent. As late as the 16th century, London's shops were described as little more than "rude booths" and their owners "bawled as loudly as the itinerants."  Cox and Dannehl suggest that the shopper's experience was very different. Glazed windows, which were rare during the medieval period, and did not become commonplace until the eighteenth century, meant that shop interiors were dark places. Outside the markets, goods were rarely out on display and the service counter was unknown. Shoppers had relatively few opportunities to inspect the merchandise prior to consumption. Many stores had openings onto the street from which they served customers.
Outside the major cities, most consumable purchases were made through markets or fairs. Markets were held daily in the more populous towns and cities or weekly in the more sparsely populated rural districts. Markets sold fresh produce; fruit, vegetables, baked goods, meat, poultry, fish and some ready to eat foodstuffs; while fairs operated on a periodic cycle and were almost always associated with a religious festival. Fairs sold non-perishables such as farm tools, homewares, furniture, rugs and ceramics. Market towns dotted the medieval European landscape while itinerant vendors supplied less populated areas or hard-to-reach districts. Peddlers and other itinerant vendors operated alongside other types of retail for centuries. The political philosopher, John Stuart Mill compared the convenience of markets/fairs to that of the itinerant peddlers:
Blintiff has investigated the early Medieval networks of market towns across Europe, and suggests that by the 12th century there was an upsurge in the number of market towns and the emergence of merchant circuits as traders bulked up surpluses from smaller regional, different day markets and resold them at the larger centralised market towns. Market-places appear to have emerged independently outside Europe. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is often cited as the world's oldest continuously-operating market; its construction began in 1455. The Spanish conquistadors wrote glowingly of markets in the Americas. In the 15th century the Mexica (Aztec) market of Tlatelolco was the largest in all the Americas.
English market towns were regulated from a relatively early period. The English monarchs awarded a charter to local Lords to create markets and fairs for a town or village. This charter would grant the lords the right to take tolls and also afford some protection from rival markets. For example, once a chartered market was granted for specific market days, a nearby rival market could not open on the same days. Across the boroughs of England, a network of chartered markets sprang up between the 12th and 16th centuries, giving consumers reasonable choice in the markets they preferred to patronise. A study on the purchasing habits of the monks and other individuals in medieval England, suggests that consumers of the period were relatively discerning. Purchase decisions were based on purchase criteria such as consumers' perceptions of the range, quality, and price of goods. This informed decisions about where to make their purchases and which markets were superior. Today, traders and showmen jealously guard the reputation of these historic market charters.
Braudel and Reynold have made a systematic study of these European market towns between the thirteenth and fifteenth century. Their investigation shows that in regional districts markets were held once or twice a week while daily markets were common in larger cities. Gradually over time, permanent shops with regular trading days began to supplant the periodic markets, while peddlers filled in the gaps in distribution. The physical market was characterised by transactional exchange and the economy was characterised by local trading. Braudel reports that, in 1600, goods travelled relatively short distances - grain 5-10 miles; cattle 40-70 miles; wool and woollen cloth 20-40 miles. Following the European age of discovery, goods were imported from afar - calico cloth from India, porcelain, silk and tea from China, spices from India and South-East Asia and tobacco, sugar, rum and coffee from the New World.
English essayist, Joseph Addison, writing in 1711, described the exotic origin of produce available to English society in the following terms:
Luca Clerici has made a detailed study of Vicenza's food market during the sixteenth century. He found that there were many different types of reseller operating out of the markets. For example, in the dairy trade, cheese and butter was sold by the members of two craft guilds (i.e., cheesemongers who were shopkeepers) and that of the so-called 'resellers' (hucksters selling a wide range of foodstuffs), and by other sellers who were not enrolled in any guild. Cheesemongers' shops were situated at the town hall and were very lucrative. Resellers and direct sellers increased the number of sellers, thus increasing competition, to the benefit of consumers. Direct sellers, who brought produce from the surrounding countryside, sold their wares through the central market place and priced their goods at considerably lower rates than cheesemongers.
By the 17th century, permanent shops with more regular trading hours were beginning to supplant markets and fairs as the main retail outlet. Provincial shopkeepers were active in almost every English market town. These shopkeepers sold general merchandise, much like a contemporary convenience store or a general store. For example, William Allen, a mercer in Tamworth who died in 1604, sold spices alongside furs and fabrics. William Stout of Lancaster retailed sugar, tobacco, nails and prunes at both his shop and at the central markets. His autobiography reveals that he spent most of his time preparing products for sale at the central market, which brought an influx of customers into town.
As the number of shops grew, they underwent a transformation. The trappings of a modern shop, which had been entirely absent from the sixteenth and early seventeenth century store, gradually made way for store interiors that are more familiar to modern shoppers. Prior to the eighteenth century, the typical retail store had no counter, display cases, chairs, mirrors, changing-rooms, etc. However, the opportunity for the customer to browse merchandise, touch and feel products began to be available, with retail innovations from the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
Outside the major metropolitan cities, few stores could afford to serve one type of clientele exclusively. However, gradually retail shops introduced innovations that would allow them to separate wealthier customers from the "riff raff." One technique was to have a window opening out onto the street from which customers could be served. This allowed the sale of goods to the common people, without encouraging them to come inside. Another solution, that came into vogue from the late sixteenth century was to invite favoured customers into a back-room of the store, where goods were permanently on display. Yet another technique that emerged around the same time was to hold a showcase of goods in the shopkeeper's private home for the benefit of wealthier clients. Samuel Pepys, for example, writing in 1660, describes being invited to the home of a retailer to view a wooden jack. The eighteenth century English entrepreneurs, Josiah Wedgewood and Matthew Boulton, both staged expansive showcases of their wares in their private residences or in rented halls.
Savitt has argued that by the eighteenth century, American merchants, who had been operating as importers and exporters, began to specialise in either wholesale or retail roles. They tended not to specialise in particular types of merchandise, often trading as general merchants, selling a diverse range of product types. These merchants were concentrated in the larger cities. They often provided high levels of credit financing for retail transactions.
By the late eighteenth century, grand shopping arcades began to emerge across Europe and in the Antipodes. A shopping arcade refers to a multiple-vendor space, operating under a covered roof. Typically, the roof was constructed of glass to allow for natural light and to reduce the need for candles or electric lighting. The architect, Bertrand Lemoine, described the period, 1786 to 1935, as l're des passages couverts (the Arcade Era). Examples of these grand arcades include: Palais Royal in Paris (opened in 1784); Passage de Feydeau in Paris (opened in 1791); London's Piccadilly Arcade (1810) and Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (1878).  Designed to attract the genteel middle class, arcade retailers sold luxury goods at relatively high prices. However, prices were never a deterrent, as these new arcades came to be the place to shop and to be seen. Arcades offered shoppers the promise of an enclosed space away from the chaos that characterised the noisy, dirty streets; a warm, dry space away from the elements, and a safe-haven where people could socialise and spend their leisure time. As thousands of glass covered arcades spread across Europe, they became grander and more ornately decorated. By the mid nineteenth century, they had become prominent centres of fashion and social life. Promenading in these arcades became a popular nineteenth century pass-time for the emerging middle classes. The Illustrated Guide to Paris of 1852 summarized the appeal of arcades in the following description:
The Palais-Royal, which opened to Parisians in 1784 and became one of the most important marketplaces in Paris, is generally regarded as the earliest example in the grand shopping arcades. The Palais-Royal was a complex of gardens, shops and entertainment venues situated on the external perimeter of the grounds, under the original colonnades. The area boasted some 145 boutiques, cafe;s, salons, hair salons, bookshops, museums, and numerous refreshment kiosks as well as two theatres. The retail outlets specialised in luxury goods such as fine jewellery, furs, paintings and furniture designed to appeal to the wealthy elite. Retailers operating out of the Palais complex were among the first in Europe to abandon the system of bartering, and adopt fixed-prices thereby sparing their clientele the hassle of bartering. Stores were fitted with long glass exterior windows which allowed the emerging middle-classes to window shop and indulge in fantasies, even when they may not have been able to afford the high retail prices. Thus, the Palais-Royal became one of the first examples of a new style of shopping arcade, frequented by both the aristocracy and the middle classes. It developed a reputation as being a site of sophisticated conversation, revolving around the salons, cafe;s, and bookshops, but also became a place frequented by off-duty soldiers and was a favourite haunt of prostitutes, many of whom rented apartments in the building. London's Burlington Arcade, which opened in 1819, positioned itself as an elegant and exclusive venue from the outset. Other notable nineteenth century grand arcades include the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert in Brussels which was inaugurated in 1847, Istanbul's iek Pasaj? opened in 1870 and Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II first opened in 1877. Shopping arcades were the precursor to the modern shopping mall.
While the arcades were the province of the bourgeoisie, a new type of retail venture emerged to serve the needs of the working poor. John Stuart Mill wrote about the rise of the co-operative retail store, which he witnessed first-hand in the mid-nineteenth century. Stuart Mill locates these co-operative stores as part of a broader co-operative movement which was prominent in the industrial city of Manchester and in the counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire. He documents one of the early co-operative retail stores in Rochdale in Manchester, England, "In 1853, the Store purchased for 745, a warehouse (freehold) on the opposite side of the street, where they keep and retail their stores of flour, butcher's meat, potatoes, and kindred articles." Stuart Mill also quoted a contemporary commentator who wrote of the benefits of the co-operative store:
The modern era of retailing is defined as the period from the industrial revolution to the 21st century. In major cities, the department store emerged in the mid to late 19th century, and permanently reshaped shopping habits, and redefined concepts of service and luxury. The term, "department store" originated in America. In 19th century England, these stores were known as emporia or warehouse shops. A number of major department stores opened across the USA, Britain and Europe from the mid nineteenth century including; Harrod's of London in 1834; Kendall's in Manchester in 1836; Selfridges of London in 1909; Macy's of New York in 1858; Bloomingdale's in 1861; Sak's in 1867; J.C. Penney in 1902; Le Bon Marche; of France in 1852 and Galeries Lafayette of France in 1905. Other twentieth century innovations in retailing included chain stores, mail-order, multi-level marketing (pyramid selling or network marketing, c. 1920s), party plans (c. 1930s) and B2C e-commerce (cyber-peddling).
Many of the early department stores were more than just a retail emporium; rather they were venues where shoppers could spend their leisure time and be entertained. Some department stores offered reading rooms, art galleries and concerts. Most department stores had tea-rooms or dining rooms and offered treatment areas where ladies could indulge in a manicure. The fashion show, which originated in the US in around 1907, became a staple feature event for many department stores and celebrity appearances were also used to great effect. Themed events featured wares from foreign shores, exposing shoppers to the exotic cultures of the Orient and Middle-East.
During this period, retailers worked to develop modern retail marketing practices. Pioneering merchants who contributed to modern retail marketing and management methods include: A. T. Stewart, Potter Palmer, John Wanamaker, Montgomery Ward, Marshall Field, Richard Warren Sears, Rowland Macy, J.C. Penney, Fred Lazarus, brothers Edward and William Filene and Sam Walton.
Retail, using mail order, came of age during the mid-19th century. Although catalogue sales had been used since the 15th century, this method of retailing was confined to a few industries such as the sale of books and seeds. However, improvements in transport and postal services, led several entrepreneurs on either side of the Atlantic to experiment with catalogue sales. In 1861, Welsh draper Pryce Pryce-Jones sent catalogues to clients who could place orders for flannel clothing which was then despatched by post. This enabled Pryce-Jones to extend his client base across Europe. A decade later, the US retailer, Montgomery Ward also devised a catalogue sales and mail-order system. His first catalogue which was issued in August 1872 consisted of an 8 in 12 in (20 cm 30 cm) single-sheet price list, listing 163 items for sale with ordering instructions for which Ward had written the copy. He also devised the catch-phrase "satisfaction guaranteed or your money back" which was implemented in 1875. By the 1890s, Sears and Roebuck were also using mail order with great success.
Edward Filene, a proponent of the scientific approach to retail management, developed the concept of the automatic bargain Basement. Although Filene's basement was not the first 'bargain basement' in the U.S., the principles of 'automatic mark-downs' generated excitement and proved very profitable. Under Filene's plan, merchandise had to be sold within 30 days or it was marked down; after a further 12 days, the merchandise was further reduced by 25% and if still unsold after another 18 days, a further markdown of 25% was applied. If the merchandise remained unsold after two months, it was given to charity. Filene was a pioneer in employee relations. He instituted a profit sharing program, a minimum wage for women, a 40-hour work week, health clinics and paid vacations. He also played an important role in encouraging the Filene Cooperative Association, "perhaps the earliest American company union". Through this channel he engaged constructively with his employees in collective bargaining and arbitration processes.
Throughout the twentieth century, a trend towards larger store footprints became discernible. The average size of a U.S. supermarket grew from 31,000 square feet (2,900 m2) square feet in 1991 to 44,000 square feet (4,100 m2) square feet in 2000. In 1963, Carrefour opened the first hypermarket in St Genevieve-de-Bois, near Paris, France. By the end of the twentieth century, stores were using labels such as "mega-stores" and "warehouse" stores to reflect their growing size. In Australia, for example, the popular hardware chain, Bunnings has shifted from smaller "home centres" (retail floor space under 5,000 square metres (54,000 sq ft)) to "warehouse" stores (retail floor space between 5,000 square metres (54,000 sq ft) and 21,000 square metres (230,000 sq ft)) in order to accommodate a wider range of goods and in response to population growth and changing consumer preferences. The upward trend of increasing retail space was not consistent across nations, and led in the early 21st century to a 2-fold difference in square footage per capita between the United States and Europe.
As the 21st century takes shape, some indications suggest that large retail stores have come under increasing pressure from online sales models and that reductions in store size are evident. Under such competition and other issues such as business debt, there has been a noted business disruption called the retail apocalypse in recent years which several retail businesses, especially in North America, are sharply reducing their number of stores, or going out of business entirely.
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