It is safe to say that the era of the grand department store is a thing of the past. It was wonderful while it lasted but, as they say, nothing lasts forever. It was the department store that helped to lead the way into the salad days of the post WWII boom and then went on to anchor the explosion of shopping malls that populated just about every suburb in America.
Long before there were major shopping malls or grand department stores and even well before modern transportation, retail entrepreneurs busied themselves learning the art of the sale. It was not as easy then as it is now for customers to get from their homes into town for a day of shopping. And the difficulty in getting from point A to point B in the days before two car homes, interstate highways and mass transit spawned an entirely new type of business.
It started with friends asking their neighbors who were headed out to shop if they would mind picking up a few extra items, essentially, asking their neighbors to do some shopping for them. Totally unforeseen by any of the retail entrepreneurs, what this “do me a favor” situation ultimately led to was the rise of the personal shopper. People who for a small fee would go to town and do your shopping for you.
Over time, these personal shoppers developed relationships with various retailers and were able to secure discounts on merchandise. With those discounts, they could offer the people they were shopping for better deals and, thereby, ensure repeat customers. And naturally the personal shoppers began to favor the retailers who gave them discounts over those that didn’t. It was a win – win – win situation.
Everybody was happy but as we said nothing lasts forever. Ultimately the retailers began asking, “Why do we need the personal shopper?” And with that question, they began cutting out the “middle-man” and offering personal shopping services as part of their normal fare. And it was that development that sparked this week’s Stories of Atlanta.