Custom «Department Store» Essay Paper Sample

Department Store


The nineteenth century department stores emerged from cities of New York, Paris and Philadelphia when the evolution of visual display reached zenith during the emergence of industrial arena. In these early department stores the technique of displaying goods that were obtained from older institutions were refined and perfected (Crossick and Jaumain 1999:17). Thereafter, the form of shopping changed from chain store, discount store to modern hypermarket. Many department stores are widely known due to their single location other than those stores that operate as chain stores. In United States, examples of department stores are Kmart, Wal-Mart and target and they greatly differ from other full-fledged stores like Sears and Macy's. In a department store a customer is able to purchase all needed merchandise in one building because of the availability of wide variety of goods in one building and this shortens and simplifies shopping process

In dealing with manipulation of visual merchandising in nineteenth century department store, sociologists and cultural theorists have therefore tended to adopt a critical perspective. The process of shopping has raised questions of whether shopping is an exercise in consumer freedom or incorporate manipulation. Bowlby (2000) suggests that shopping exercise has taken up most of the women's time manipulating their minds and without them knowing the hidden aspects of shopping that affects their lives at every moment. The transformations in department store reflect the changing roles of women and men since nineteenth century.

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Through practicing display that is a major practice of departmental stores, goods are placed before the public in such a manner that the observer can develop a desire for them and enters into the store to make the purchase.. Because of the manipulation of visual merchandising in the nineteenth century department stores, it is evident that a world of sign-consumption where goods are not only consumed for their intended  use or exchange value , but also they are consumed as sign of luxury, exoticism and excess is developed (Veblen 1991).

Framing of Shopping Experience

Throughout the history of retail business, new types of merchandise have lead to new styles of shopping. At the end of the nineteenth century, the department store was invented to boost consumption of the increasing variety of goods in the developing up countries of modern cities. The rise of modern shopping opened the city streets to a respectable women, and played a significant role in both feminism and consumer culture. According to Rappaport (2000), middle- and upper-class women in London's West End during the Victorian and Edwardian times experienced forces that encouraged and discouraged their enjoyment of public life. The shopping experience became their quintessential leisure activity that was a key factor in getting domestically protected women out of the house and into town of their own. Because of the department stores that had women's magazines, clubs, teashops restaurants and theaters, it led to emergence of new female urban culture in modes of consumption before and after twentieth century.

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Due to visual merchandise that facilitated massive sales, new shopping behaviors emerged that has become important component of contemporary life style that it can be said to be a form of urban entertainment. However, middle-class women were involved in theft and shoplifting at the time when there was an immense change in economic and social culture. During early nineties, the culture of consumer, gender roles and social structure changed due to technological innovation and more women were involved in criminality. The visual merchandise that was largely adopted in these department stores presented products in attractive way and  it led middle-class urban women into buying what they needed and desired but also succumbed into stealing what seemed so readily available. Due to establishment of department stores, women adopted new ways of leisure in shopping and entertainment. According to Abelson (1990:9), she explained that "because of the evident acts of female shoplifter, it is important to explore specific aspects of the process of consumption in America and assess its influence within broader culture as public perception of shoplifter brings about concerns about gender and class".

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During the First World War, the British department stores overcame obstacles such that at the end aggressive marketing, new electrical products and improved services, but most of all Lancaster (1995:105) said that "finely tuned antennae to shifts in living standards and consumer taste" revealed an unexpected growth in British business world. The activity of window-shopping appears to have been known as the most popular way of purchase in the contemporary consumer culture. Because of this kind of display goods are rarely presented in a way that exhibits their intended purpose or utility. The early department stores' manipulation of visual display did not present their products falsely from their original purpose but visual merchandising was intended to add distinct symbolic qualities such as wealth, mystery and abundance.  The culture of consumer consumption does has changed and it no longer involve just the acquisition of the basic requirements for life, but also acquisition of products that are meant to construct our self and social identities. Even though in today challenging economy where by people may avoid designers or visual merchandisers because they fear unmanageable costs, there is still a positive thing a bout them as they help economize by avoiding costly mistakes.

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At the centre of the new consuming culture, the emergence of glittering new "palaces of consumption" as eventually changed the experience of buying goods in most of the cities. Several stores such as Marshall Field & Co. in Chicago and Macy's in New York sell a wide variety of items all under one roof. Varieties of items are arranged in different departments rather than in different stores. These department stores has changed shopping experience in such a way that customers would walk down the carpeted aisles that are arranged in city streets while visualizing arrangement of goods in glass. These goods are usually displayed in a colorful and exciting ornate interior with mirrors.

Importance of Visual Merchandising

Visual merchandising today forms a critical element of retailing. It is usually referred to as a silent salesperson and it aims at attracting customers to the merchandise for closer examination and therefore increased sales. It is intended to make the market place innovative, exciting and stimulating by creating products that are markets demanding. In the Victorian England advertisers employed images of the Crystal Palace Exhibition of mid eighties and images of women before second world war. Richards (1991) argues that there were new types of cultures in the mid and late nineteenth century that were developed in British. These new culture involved new ways of thinking and living that largely depended on the possession of material goods and commodities. According to Felski (1995), cultural forms of consumerism came into being well before the consumer economy did.

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Visual merchandise involves the use of façade windows that are clearly done up with the purpose of attracting passer-bys with the aim of inducing walk-ins. It also involves the in-store decorations that are designed to enhance the customer's comfort and convenience while shopping and in general it offers superior shopping experience. According to consumer studies that have done, it is evident that customers are lured by beautiful done up show window and a tastefully decorated façade that  are more often   irresistible and the customer eventually walks in to check what is non offer . Also when the mood and theme of display changes at regular intervals, it makes certain that the store remains to be more attractive to customers. The customer's first encounter in the store is important to maintain frequent visits since they will always have memorable experiences of the past.

Framing of Consumption Ideas

The development of early consumer society impacted gender roles in commercial and gender values in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Due to industrial revolution, the market expanded leading to creation of a space for consumer choices.  Brewer and Porter (1993), argues that department store have fundamentally changed the nature and the context of modes of buying and also the type of the information and influence to which the consumer encounters. The change in consumer culture is also attributed to introduction of a variety of consumer goods into the everyday lives of people of different social status who have unequal sense of fashion and taste.

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The mode of consumption has been greatly influenced by the emergence of department stores in nineteenth century. There was a consumer revolution in eighteenth century England. More men than women are said to have been immensely involved in acquisition of material possessions. Materials that were acquired as a result of inheritance became legitimate pursuit of a whole new class of consumers. The eighteenth century department store's managers constructed a world of sign consumption where goods were not only consumed for their use or exchange value, but were also consumed as signs of luxury, egotism and excess (Glickman,1999). The activity of window-shopping appears to be one of the most popular practices of contemporary consumer culture. With an adopted tradition that seems not to end, consumers usually assemble on city centers or large shopping malls to enjoy the visual delights of commodities arranged in appealing way.  The change in contemporary trends of consumption of material goods is an increasingly global culture. Idea of consumption is shaped by a collection of behaviors, attitudes and values that are associated with the consumption of material goods. According to Bowlby (1985), consumer culture was developed as early as eighteenth century in England where there was commercialization of fashion that lead to emergence of a massive change in taste and preference.

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Since the emergence of department stores, consumers have been involved in conspicuous consumption of products. Conspicuous consumption is a pattern that is still common in American society and it is a form of snobbery and wastefulness. Veblen (1991) exposes the real meaning of the immense usage of money in the working and merchant classes that has led to formation of elites basing mostly on money and asset valuation.

During the previous centuries before the nineteenth century, the norm had been the scarcity of resources, but because of industrial revolution there had been creation of unusual economic situation. The products have been made available in outstanding qualities, at outstandingly low prices, being thus available to virtually everyone and therefore, these lead to beginning of mass consumption. In general there was a trend of regular consumers who sought to emulate those who were above them in the social hierarchy. The poor strives to imitate the wealthy and the wealthy imitate modern celebrities and other icons, and so all these are attributed to conspicuous consumption. Because of the displays in the department stores, celebrity endorsement of products can be seen as evidence of the desire of modern consumers to purchase products partly or solely to emulate people of higher social status. This mode of purchasing behavior may co-exist in the mind of a consumer with an image of oneself as being an individualist. The coexistence of class-bound solidarity demands with consumer demands is questionable considering past movements aimed at reforming social and political arena in the interest of men and women (De Grazia, 1996). Due to conspicuous consumption, there is competitiveness that has risen in the consumption of products in the society. The original idea of purchasing consumer products is totally influenced by displays of such products and these have eventually lead to western societies diverting into material possessions.

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Difference and Similarities in Shopping and Consumption Experience

In the modern western consumer culture, it is obvious that consumption rather than work has been all along the defining experience. The beginning of department stores according to Lancaster (1995), in British adopted new managerial skills, advanced window shopping and merchandising practices from America while the building designs, fashions and models of employee relations were copied from France.  The activity that involves the direct flow of goods and services from producers to consumers has advanced during industrial economies considering marketing strategies. The importance of marketing in department stores today cannot be overstated. The increasing sales are attributed to advertising and other promotional techniques that are incorporated in marketing departments. Various policies are developed that ensures product development, customer support, product distribution and corporate communications. The process of merchandising is well developed to increase sales of an existing product and introduce new products. Department stores phenomenon has influenced urban existence and the sign values attached, to make consumption a globalised experience. The department stores employs the use of visual merchandise and stocks products in large volumes to ensure that consumers would never  be fully satisfied, thus causing a desire that makes them return to the stores.











The department store has now come to attract the attention of historians of culture, consumption, gender, urban life and several other concepts. In fact, the department store in its modern era of expansive growth has often improved to suit the modern culture and social status. There is a variation in department stores that has provided women with a new mode of consumption and architecture of stores. There is a variation in the way modern departmental stores are designed, training of the workforce, the tradition of shopping, the strategies laid for advertising, the way employers are organized and the general locations of stores. The building and management of Bon Marche was in seeking to create new sets of social relationships, perceptions and roles that would enable the adaption of work force and attraction of bourgeois public in a changing society (Miller 1995: 12). This large department store in French has its impacts on the business history in French society and the culture and bureaucracy of people.

Department stores   in the twentieth century were among the first retailers to use a computerized system. This is attributed to large numbers of merchandise and suppliers that needed to be addressed considering more data that need to be stored effectively. As a result, the department store became 'more than a site of consumption' as it provided space for employment and a means of entertainment to both men and women. The introduction of department store has shaped culture from eighteenth century where it was defined as design area to the modern consumer culture. Today's departmental stores are attributed to a skyscraper that defines the skyline and is evident in New York and most other cities in Europe.  

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In the modern shopping malls, the idea of adding entertainment has been gaining popularity. The first major entertainment mall was in the west Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada in which there was a designed parking yard and indoor surfing. Such entertainment extends a mall's draw, lengthens shopper stays and as a result increases revenues for tenants. According to Fox and Lears (1980), they stated that "there is a growing recognition in the industry that fun and games, if done properly, not only attracts shoppers but also can improve the bottom line". In the past, shopping centers were greatly involved in the activities of selling only merchandise, but in modern times they have engaged themselves in providing fun and entertainment, and an enjoyable shopping experience. Most of these department stores nowadays are looking for other attractions in addition to amusement rides such as theme museums, aquariums and many others.


Department stores are said to have played a major part in "shaping modern consumer culture" in a developing consumer society. Retailing industry was founded by the introduction of department stores in eighteenth century, and it has been innovative in modern economic system. Also its channel impact has also liberated women by providing jobs and making their status prominent in society. The sign values illustrated an area that was related to post modernity and through department stores it, it flourished in the mid nineteenth century. There have been many ideologies attributing to consumer culture in today's society.

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Women found that sign consumption provided a means of production, which allowed them to escape from the domestic sphere. Due to the continued growth and establishment of departmental stores, women started to gain a place within society. It is therefore believed that rising of departmental stores has made the phenomenon of a female public possible.

Though many researchers have been carried out to on the benefits of providing entertainment centers, there has been almost no focus on the exact extent to which the existence of an entertainment centre impacts the shopping behavior of consumers. These impacts can be in terms of distance travelled to reach the mall, the amount of time and money spent at the mall and the extent of patronage at other mall stores. The normal economic situation in a state is defined by consumer behavior and attitudes that differ in generations as the post-recession culture of consumerism changes.

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