Abstracts - for the 6th September 2012

Retailing and Distribution History  - CHORD Conference

Abstracts 11.30 - 13.00

Jessica Field, University of Manchester, UK, ‘Selfless Sellers and Benevolent Buyers? Re-Working the Spatialities of Consumption and Charity in the Outer Hebrides’

Utilising theorisations of the spatialities of globalisation, this paper will explore how the global norms of consumption and charity have been re-worked and inextricably bound through ActionAid’s only charity shop, located in the Outer Hebrides. I will build on oral history testimonies from the co-founders of the shop, alongside local news and ActionAid publications, to document how the performed reality of commercial compassion in this fluid space has shaped local and extra-local conceptualisations of “doing good”. Conclusions will feed into wider discourses on how the wider population experience and engage with charitable action on the high street. Crucially, this paper will stress the necessity of using retail topographies to enhance understanding of modern charity action, and in turn will highlight the variety of actants that have actively forged the charity-retail connections.

Opened in 1980, the operational history of Stornoway’s ActionAid shop has been shaped by both local agency and transnational networks of charitable activity. As part of a circulatory network that feeds off and feeds into triumphal capitalism and international humanitarianism, it is a translocal space that connects the consumer to their own community, to commercial practices of donating and buying, and it encourages distinct conceptualisations of the needy overseas. Charity shops rarely figure into historical narratives of retail activity or charitable work, and yet, since the close of World War II, have become an increasingly popular means by which British people engage in charitable action. Within these spaces of translocal agency it is not possible to isolate historic moments of explicit charitable or commercial action, as compassionate consumption has been so interwoven into the daily routine of shopping and wider narratives of humanitarian assistance. By unpacking the heterogeneous spatialities that have connected the local Stornoway community and the international organisation ActionAid, this paper will re-work retail analysis into a discourse inclusive of compassionate consumption and provide a springboard for further debate on the role that charity shops play in humanitarian aid.


Ed Owens, University of Manchester, UK, ‘“Marina hats” are selling well, and sitting pretty!’  Media, Marketing and the Royal Wedding of 1934

 ‘Nobody who can remember the extraordinary fervour and enthusiasm evoked by Princess Marina’s marriage will ever forget that royal wedding: there has never been anything like it – and probably never will be again’. (StellaKing, Princess Marina: Her Life and Times (London, 1969).

This paper examines the popular response evoked by the 1934 wedding of Princess Marina of Greece to the youngest son of King George V, Prince George the Duke of Kent. Historians have identified how the 1934 royal marriage was staged on an unprecedented scale, both in terms of the anticipation excited by the media in advance of the event and on the wedding day itself. The enthusiasm was due to the persona of Marina who was an extraordinarily glamorous figure. Her Parisian upbringing had endowed her with style and finesse and on arriving in England as the fiancée of Prince George in September 1934 she instantly became an icon of Continental elegance, inspiring a new hair coiffeur as well as several styles of dress and headwear.

Popular illustrated newspapers capitalised on Marina’s fashionability, deconstructing her glamour to make it accessible to female readers whilst encouraging them to copy the styles of the princess. Advertisements in the same pages marketed products that allegedly made it possible for ordinary women to buy into this upper-class chic femininity. Meanwhile, independent shops used the marriage to stimulate conspicuous consumption. Many commercial outlets encouraged patrons to enter their premises on wedding day to listen ‘in comfort’ to the live BBC broadcast of the ceremony from Westminster Abbey. This marketing strategy had two significant implications: It presented the shop as a relaxing space of consumption in which to enjoy the pleasures of the new medium of radio whilst empowering the consumer by allowing them to enter the shop without any commitment to purchase. Nevertheless, wedding day unsurprisingly witnessed a boom in commercial trade. The day after the wedding the press described how women and girls had flocked to retail outlets to hear the royal wedding broadcast and then spent their afternoons in the shopping aisles.

This paper relates to the broader themes of my PhD which has set out to examine how and why different groups of people have celebrated the role of the monarchy in the twentieth century. In this respect, it is clear that support of stylish royal figures such as Princess Marina has been bound up in their glamour and the way female consumers invested emotionally and materially in them through fashion and purchasing power. In this way, the connection between monarchy and market has enhanced the popularity of the Crown's image in society.


Ben Wilcock, University of Manchester, UK, ‘Selling Spaces: marketing places of consumption in mid-to-late Georgian towns’

My paper will explore the use and marketing of commercial space in the late eighteenth century. Using early-industrialising towns in the North West of England and drawing from my doctoral research I will present evidence about how spaces of consumption were used and advertised by purveyors of high-end goods and services. My primary hypothesis is that the spaces of consumption were, for the discerning and conspicuous consumer, as important as the products themselves.

The long eighteenth century has become synonymous with notions of politeness and respectability. The widespread construction of social behaviour to indicate a proper and deserved public station, together with the current predominance of the study of consumption as a field of research for the period, has led to the creation of polite commercial space in towns in the eighteenth century become a focus of study for historians. Questions have been asked about the cause and effect of identifiable ‘leisure towns’ in England, their effect on the region in which they were situated and their prominence nationally. Northern industrial towns, though, have been largely ignored in this spatial study of eighteenth-century consumerism, and little work has been done to examine the high-end shopping streets and districts of towns such as Manchester and Liverpool, despite the well-documented rise in size and population of these towns throughout the eighteenth century.

I will explore the physical spaces intended for the display, marketing and purchase of high-end consumer goods and the cultural value that these new shops, streets and squares took on. Through analysis of contemporary accounts, maps, newspaper advertisements, civil orders and visual material I will assess they way in which established space was altered to accommodate an increased market for polite consumption, and how new space was created to maximise the luxury shopping experience.

(Re)Conceptualising the Shop Space: Exploring “the shop” as a product to be conspicuously consumed

The history of retail and commerce is an expanding academic field that draws together scholars from a broad range of specialities and periods. The study of the spaces of consumption is an emerging discourse of this wider field, but it lacks the intellectual rigor that characterises analyses on the cultural meaning of products and consumer relations. Our cross-discipline panel brings together three PhD candidates that are currently pioneering exciting, but different, fields of study. We explicitly address the shop space as a product in itself, and explore the ways in which it has been experienced by the consumer in different contexts. Ben Wilcock is working on eighteenth-century consumption and will present evidence on the marketing of commercial shop spaces in pre-industrial towns in the North West of England. Ed Owens is working on the public image of the British royal family in the twentieth century. His paper on the wedding of Princess Marina of Greece to Prince George Duke of Kent in 1934 explores how retail space was marketed as an environment in which to enjoy “in comfort” the BBC broadcast of the wedding ceremony. Jessica Field analyses the development of charity fundraising technologies in mid-to-late twentieth century Britain. Her paper will present a spatial analysis of the Stornoway ActionAid shop as an exemplar commercial outlet for the expression of compassionate consumption. The three papers are diverse in historical breadth, but clearly present an emerging narrative of the shop space as a product to be lived and consumed.

Jon Brown, University of Brighton, UK, ‘Fashionably Nordic: Retail Furnishers Innovative Scandinavian Furniture Group Buying Schemes’

 The intense promotional efforts of the Nordic countries in the UK in the postwar period resulted in modern Scandinavian furniture and furnishings becoming increasingly high profile and fashionable.  This intensified after 1960 when levels of Scandinavian imports to the UK rose considerably thanks to the onset of deregulation instigated by the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).  Modern independent retail furnishers, keen to acquire more profitable unbranded Nordic stock, formed collective group buying schemes such as the Green Group, which brought them access to exclusive ranges of primarily Danish and Swedish furniture. The creation of these schemes was helped considerably by the networks that already existed among retailers via their membership of the National Association of Retail Furnishers (N.A.R.F) and the Council of Industrial design (C.o.I.D).

Group bought furniture often came in component parts that were convenient and economic to transport in bulk for distribution amongst group members. Access to such stock enabled a network of modern furnishing firms to define themselves as viable Scandinavian specialists.  Buying schemes were by commercial necessity discrete and their activities have remained vague.   This new research sheds light for the first time on the innovative supply channels adopted in the post war decades which were integral in bringing Scandinavian furniture to a broader market.

Alison Toplis, University of Wolverhampton, UK, 'How to, or how not to, Make a Profit: A Birmingham Draper's Trade with 1830s Van Diemen's Land'

In 1835, John Muston, a former hop and tea trader, wrote to the Birmingham draper Joseph James, from Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land, today known as Tasmania.  He commented that it was possible to make a fortune from trading in drapery but care must be taken to send over the right type of goods, only those that were of the latest fashions.  For a colonial town formed to hold convicts, where the population was still relatively small at around 16,000 and three-quarters of that population was male, setting up a fashionable drapery shop which focussed on female consumers was not the most obvious choice.  However, Muston, using existing family networks, sought to convince James of his venture’s worth and the profits that James might make from diversifying into a more global trade.

This paper will discuss the drapery and clothing trades with Van Diemen’s Land during the 1830s.  Using this as a case study, common difficulties for shopkeepers of the period will thus be highlighted as well as the solutions that were found to overcome these problems.  For instance, the way that a retailer needed to adapt to the commercial environment they operated within, rather than the ideal market as envisaged on the opposite side of the world will be discussed.  Pragmatic solutions to provide for all consumer preferences needed to be ascertained and acted upon quickly leading to variety of ways to retail to people across the social spectrum.  The trade with Van Diemen’s Land during the 1830s also presented enormous logistical challenges which impacted on the goods being offered for sale.  How these difficulties were overcome will be considered.

Both Muston and James ultimately succeeded in their antipodean venture but without each other, their family network disintegrating.  The enterprise and opportunities created by England’s provincial retailers as part of a growing international trade is brought clearly into focus by this case study.

Eva Maria von Wyl, University of Zurich, Switzerland, ’The Introduction of Self-Service in Switzerland: Why the Americans Had No Chance to Conquer Europe’s Retail Market’

The first self-service food store in Switzerland was opened in Zurich by Gottlieb Duttweiler’s Migros on Monday, March 19, 1948. At that time, there were many people in Switzerland that expressed their dislike, even resentment, by blaming self-service for “Americanization”, “dehumanization”, and “support of materialism” in various newspaper articles and contemporary studies on the introduction of self-service. Migros did not inform the press about the revolutionary changes they made to their largest store in the city center until two weeks after the re-opening. Yet, people flocked to the new store to examine the American sales system. It soon became clear that the new Migros food store was going to be a great success. Its sales volume rose even though wartime rationing had not yet been completely abolished. Soon another self-service store opened in Zurich, run by the food cooperative of Zurich (Lebensmittelverein Zurich) that is today part of Coop Switzerland. Journalists and housewives loved the innovative, time saving way of grocery shopping, as they expressed in a series of newspaper articles and letters to the editor. Both praised the aesthetic display of thousands of different goods, the quick, rationalized shopping experience and the possibility of examining the goods in their hands before buying.

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the Americans were investing a lot of money and energy into Europe’s war recovery. Various firms were trying to enter Western European markets to expand their business. Nelson A. Rockefeller’s International Economy Corporation (IBEC), for instance, went on various research journeys through Western Europe. However, they soon had to realize that except from Italy they would not be able to establish their own super market chain. This paper discusses, on the one hand, why the Americans had not much of a chance in conquering Europe’s retail market in the postwar period by following the introduction of self-service in Switzerland. On the other hand, it shows that even though the Swiss retailers were first introduced to self-service – as everyone else – on research journeys to the United States, it was the English and especially the Swedish cooperatives that, in the end, influenced their Swiss counterparts the most.


Dr Laura Ugolini

Room MC334

Tel: 01902 321890

Email: L.Ugolini@wlv.ac.uk