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Retailing institutions and practices are evolutionary in nature, and much can be learned by studying the history of retailing. Events are not as discontinuous or unique as they sometimes seem, as noted in the title of the article: 'The past is a prologue to the future'. Building on the February 2010 special issue of the International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, the present article takes a longer time frame and a more global (rather than regional) perspective. Modern retailing is the accumulation of incremental steps over time. The state of retailing at any given point is not only dependent on the cyclical nature of the overall economy in a country or region, but also on specific factors endemic to retailing. The theories of the retail life cycle, the wheel of retailing, and scrambled merchandising/retail accordion remain as valid and useful today as in the past, even though not always fully appreciated by retailers. As modern retailing institutions and practices move toward greater acceptance globally, opportunities in developing countries are especially promising; yet, small retailers are still dominant in many such countries. As always, retailing performance continues to vary significantly by retail category. Although Wal-Mart is the world's leading retailer, and will be for years to come, there are substantial opportunities for other firms that properly plan and execute distinctive strategies. To succeed in the future, retailers must study, learn, and adapt in a way that both appeals to consumers and is cost efficient - a difficult balance. The article concludes with eight key principles for effective retailing - applicable to past, present, and future practices.