Mail order in the United Kingdom c. 1880-1960: how mail order competed with other forms of retailing

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Abstract:

The history of general mail-order retailing in Britain has a distinctive trajectory. Though there were some important similarities, companies like Empire Stores, Great Universal Stores and Littlewoods did not simply replicate the Montgomery Ward/ Sears, Roebuck model. British mail-order retailing was shaped in response to the requirements of an urbanized market where less affluent socio-economic groups predominated and relied on credit sales and local spare-time agency to an extent unmatched elsewhere. During the period c. 1900-60, mail order's share of total retail sales grew at the expense of conventional outlets. The ability of the mail-order companies to compete successfully in this period is explained largely in terms of their role as credit providers and the efficacy of an agency system that allowed them to exploit pre-existing social networks.

Keywords: AGENCY; COMPETITION; CREDIT; MAIL ORDER; RETAILING

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/095939699342552

Publication date: July 1, 1999

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