views updated May 29 2018


People shop for a variety of reasons. Most people buy the products found in shops, supermarkets, grocery stores, department stores, and malls because they need them. Since 90 percent of persons living in the United States or one of the other developed nations no longer farm, they must buy their food and beverages from stores. They also buy an endless quantity of products to furnish or repair their homes, to heal themselves from illness, or to transport themselves from place to place. But people also shop for reasons that have nothing to do with keeping themselves alive, sheltered, or well. People make purchases that allow them to distinguish themselves from neighbors. Shopping provides a psychological uplift: there is a sheer enjoyment in going into a shop and making a purchase that provides a release from mundane activities. In fact, consumerism is one of the largest recreational activities in America and the most important base upon which the economy rests.

It is obvious from the examination of artifacts from antiquity that acquiring material goods has always been a major human activity, especially among the elite. Stalls or later stores for the sale of goods seem to be characteristic of every urban society. In colonial America in each of the seaboard cities, master artisans created and sold jewelry, furniture, silverware, and other items from the first floor of their homes. The streets of these cities contained a constant parade of people buying and selling from these artisan shops or from street vendors. Shopping was a major part of life in these cities. At times, the sheer pleasure of buying became addictive. In correspondence, husbands and wives complained that their mates' buying habits were causing financial problems. Benjamin Franklin, for example, criticized his wife, Debra, for spending too much money on clothes and furnishings they did not need.

Early American Shops

By the early nineteenth century, each of the urban centers had developed fashionable streets where the elite and the upper middle class shopped. In New York City, which became the largest and most commercial city, a few special shops located on Broadway became centers for shoppers and landmark institutions. Tiffany was the jeweler for the wealthy; Brooks Brothers was a high-fashion custom men's tailor; while Alexander T. Stewart built the leading women's shop, selling yard goods, material for hats, and a sundry of other sewing supplies. Founded in 1846, Stewart's Marble Palace was the perfect shopping place. Women ran their hands over the material, talked to the clerks, sat down, viewed themselves in large mirrors, and enjoyed the aesthetics of one of the grandest public buildings in the city. Smaller, less grand imitators appeared in other cities, including Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. What made shopping in these businesses so attractive to middle-class women was the welcome they received. Prices were generally fixed and clearly noted on the merchandise, and they did not have to haggle. The goods were generally guaranteed for a certain period of time, so customers did not have to fear that they had been cheated on the purchase. For lower-class women, shopping was generally confined to local neighborhoods, where merchants were less scrupulous and women frequently had to bargain over the price.

Golden Age of Shopping

The shifting patterns of retailing after the Civil War led to an era that could easily be called the golden age of shopping in American history. Lasting from the 1870s until after World War II, large department stores were built in every major city in the United States and in many smaller ones. By the time of World War I, these stores came to dominate the skylines of the central business districts. In fact, department stores, often built by leading architects such as David Burnham of Chicago, largely defined the existence of a central business district in cities both large and small. Constructed between 1900 and 1920 and often standing ten to fourteen stories high, these department store buildings were the creation of some of the most famous names in retailing, such as John Wanamaker, Marshall Field, Oscar Straus, Bernard Gimbel, and Edward Filene. Their philosophy, as expressed by Marshall Field of Chicago, was to "give the lady what she wants."

John Wanamaker of Philadelphia called his store a "Land of Desire." Department stores drew customers by their sheer beauty and by the vast amounts of merchandise available for purchase. Not only were the stores grand emporiums where someone could freely walk around, looking at and testing the merchandise, but they were also safe havens. Clerks were always available, but they were unobtrusive. To further put the customer at ease, these clerks were often female, allowing many shoppers to develop friendships with the store personnel. Prices and quality of the merchandise were clearly stated, and no bargaining was allowed. Items could be returned if necessary, no questions asked. Customers were thus given the thrill of bringing home a new dress, trying it on, and returning it on the next shopping trip.

Once inside, the store's ambience cast a magical spell over the shopper. Merchandise was displayed on beautifully arranged counters. Imported silks competed for attention with fine linens. Cloth and scarves were displayed in every imaginable color. Crafts from all parts of the world were arranged in innovative ways. The scent of imported and domestic perfumes charged the atmosphere. In the ready-made departments, women could find copies of the latest French dresses. A shopper could purchase a sewing machine, which reduced the drudgery of making and repairing clothes. Stores carried bicycles and sports equipment, artist supplies, and pianos. Some early-twentieth-century stores even sold automobiles.

Not only were many of the newest technical advances on sale, these department stores were also gateways into the future. They were lit by electricity before many of their customers had it in their homes; they had escalators and elevators to move people from one floor to another. In the winter they had central heating, and in the summer a cooling system made life more bearable. At a time when even middle-class families needed an escape from homes that were dark, cold, or hot, the stores provided escape.

These Victorian stores also were great centers of amusement: they held art exhibitions, concerts, and carnivals. John Wanamaker had the largest organ in the world in his Philadelphia store, and he brought in the Philadelphia Orchestra to play. Perhaps the highlights of the year for many shoppers were Easter and Christmas, when large and imaginative displays opened wide the eyes of both adults and children. Is it any wonder that when a reporter for the New York Times asked the question as to why women shop, he received the answer, "Why, my dear, it's a cheap entertainment" (Abelson, p. 22)? A person could view the entertainment, enjoy the Christmas displays, and listen to the music for free. But few could view the merchandise on display without making a purchase.

Many women made a trip to the early-twentieth-century emporium a central part of their weekly activities and made two or more trips to shop. Earlier in the nineteenth century, middle-class women were often fearful about walking around city streets. But the new shopping centers gave them a safe destination where they could escape their suburban households. In these stores, women were pampered and catered to. Because the stores provided safety and were located near train terminals, women would come and meet friends and make a day of it. Before entering the store itself, shoppers or strollers would stop to look at the store's windows, which had creative and beautiful displays. One historian has speculated that the museum movement, which developed at about this time, borrowed many ideas from these department store displays.

Shopping Expeditions

To add to the excitement of a day of shopping, the department store provided services such as elegant dining rooms, which gave women a gracious place in which to meet friends. Since the stores were centrally located, a person could comparison shop at more than one emporium. And they were often next to other types of entertainment attractive to the middle class. In Philadelphia, Wanamaker's was situated a few blocks from the Academy of Music, which held special afternoon concerts. When the shopping trip was over, consumers did not have to worry about carrying a large number of packages home because the stores delivered. In every way these stores made a trip downtown a memorable and joyous occasion. Most people who lived in metropolitan areas have fond memories of visiting Santa Claus; of being inundated with the sights, smells, and sounds of the season; and of being surrounded by exhibitions of toys. Particularly during the holiday season, families often made shopping trips to New York City from other parts of the country.

Upper-class families often took trips to Europe on one of the great luxury liners to see the sights and also to shop for clothes in French boutiques or go hunting for antiques in quaint English stores. But people also made "shopping expeditions" to exotic parts of the world such as the Fiji Islands or India. Mary Davis Wallis, when told that it was unsafe for a woman to shop in Fiji, exclaimed, "Not go a shopping! A lady not go a shopping!" But not only women were affected by the lure of foreign purchases. Harriet Bailey Blaine, traveling in 1888 with her husband James J. Blaine, a former presidential candidate, wrote, "He bought and bought and bought." Consuming foreign goods was often not a side aspect of these trips but the centerpiece.

The centerpiece of shopping was the satisfaction that came from bringing home an object of a desire. In the social atmosphere of the early twentieth century this meant acquiring the clothing, furniture, rug, or piano that allowed consumers to show that they had the purchasing power to keep up with their neighbors or compete with a higher class. One female store executive described the effects of clothing on a woman's psyche, "The right clothes mean an added zip to life, a heightening of the woman's belief in herself—youth and gaiety and happiness" (Matt, p. 21). A piano allowed someone to be truly part of the middle class; it turned a house into a center of culture and promised social advancement for the children. Just having the right rug could make a home appear to belong to people of a higher social class. By 1900, factories were turning out imitations of higher-priced materials, so, for example, consumers could purchase an oriental rug that looked as if it had been made in India but had actually been manufactured in the United States. Just by making the right purchase, consumers were able to raise their families' social standing. Besides allowing buyers to rise in importance beyond their class, acquiring enduring household objects gave female shoppers a sense of power that they often lacked in a male-oriented society.

Often the pleasures and recreational nature of shopping would become addictive. The lure of goods and the displays often became too much for consumers. Although credit was often restricted to persons in the highest social class, many families found themselves unable to make the payments on what they had purchased. When credit became more widely available in the mid-twentieth century, addiction became more of a problem in the same way that a casual recreational gambler soon found the debts accumulating. There was another problem as well: girls and women often found the lure of new merchandise so tempting that they began to leave the store with goods they had not paid for. Shoplifting, according to historian Elaine S. Abelson, became a serious problem both for the stores and for the middle-class women caught by store detectives.

Changes in the late nineteenth century had an impact upon the working class as well. Although these individuals did not shop in the great center-city department stores, they had access to a wide variety of goods because of the Industrial Revolution. Local shops sold cheap ready-made clothes even the poorest workers could afford. As part of this new culture, working girls delighted in shopping for cheap copies of middle-class dresses to wear during off hours. It was an interesting phenomenon as all classes began to acquire numerous changes of dress for different occasions. No longer did people simply own one set of clothes, shoes, and hats for everyday use and another set for Sunday. By the 1920s, with relatively cheap transportation available and with a shortening of the workday, working-class women and men often shopped downtown. To accommodate them, merchants developed a new class of lower-priced department stores. Stores such as Wanamaker's in Philadelphia and Filene's in Boston, which catered to the upper middle class, developed bargain basements that contained clothes and merchandise remaindered from the upper floors. To encourage these shoppers, many of the department stores developed credit cards specifically for the less affluent.

Post–World War II

After World War II, the department store gradually declined in the United States until only a few old-style examples remained. For example, Gimbel's in New York City closed in the mid-1980s while Wanamaker's in Philadelphia shut it doors in the late 1990s. Macy's in New York City is the largest store in America, although it has rivals in Tokyo, London, and Paris. The cause for the decline of the department store ties into the disintegration of the city and the rise of the suburbs and to the shift to automobile in place of mass transportation. With rising crime many people feared going into the city, and a visit to a store became less entertaining and more threatening. Parking was also difficult and expensive and mass transportation deteriorated, making it harder to get into the central business district. Although it took time for the big department stores to disappear, by the year 2000 most were gone. Since much of the middle class now lived in the suburbs, shopping malls became the substitute for the large department stores. As the shopping environment changed, many of the old-name stores built chains in the affluent suburbs, so that soon every major mall in the New York metropolitan area had a Macy's.

Since the largest cities continued to have middle-class residents, they continued to have elite shopping districts that also attracted buyers from the suburbs. Consumers from around the country still had a few destinations. New York's Fifth Avenue from Thirty-fourth Street to Central Park remains the most famous shopping street in the United States, but Walnut Street in Philadelphia and Michigan Boulevard in Chicago also attracted shoppers. With the introduction of cheap transatlantic flights, middle-class consumers began making buying trips to Europe; people wanted to possess goods that no one else in their neighborhood had.

Even without the great department stores and the amusements they provided, shopping is more a leisure activity in the early twenty-first century than it was in the early twentieth century. With the increase in disposable income after World War II, a greater percentage of the population could afford to engage in shopping. Shaken by the Great Depression, governments have since 1945 urged consumers to spend money to help the economy recover from economic downturns. Women, who have less time since most are working, and men, who have more time at their disposal since the advent of the forty-hour week and paid vacations, continue to spend time shopping as a leisure pastime. Large malls, sometimes containing hundreds of shops, are the primary shopping centers, but increasingly discount centers, either standing alone or attached to a dozen or more similar stores, have become a shopping alternative. Malls make an attempt to duplicate on a sparer scale the old department stores by providing decorations at Christmas and by bringing in entertainment.

Class and gender sometimes provide dividing lines in how people spend shopping time. A few upscale shopping areas appeal to the elite shopper. Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California, is only three blocks long, but it contains branches of the most prestigious European and American retailers such as Gucci, Coco Chanel, Valentino, Cartier, Neiman Marcus, and Tiffany. On a smaller scale, upper-class consumer enclaves are found near most of the suburbs. Although most of the malls appeal to women, men are usually there in large numbers. But men with greater free time also visit in greater numbers home repair stores, sporting goods shops, and automobile dealers. With greater independent incomes, women often are found in similar retailers. In fact, there seems to be a greater convergence across wealth and gender than ever before.

Perhaps the one group left out of the consumer revolution has been the poor. Not only do they not have the means to engage in shopping as leisure, but often they do not have any place to shop. Many poor neighborhoods have lost the stores that were prominent there at the beginning of the twentieth century. Transportation to shopping malls from the city is often unreliable and costly.

Whether done in a department store or a suburban mall, shopping is often a transforming experience. People buy for the excitement of the product acquired. Though not the fantasy lands that department stores were, malls continue to be the destinations at which many American choose to spend their weekends and holidays. This leisure-time activity has an enormous impact on the economy. Analysts devote a great deal of time to understanding how much shoppers have spent in the previous month compared to the same period a year before. The stock market has been known to rise and fall on the basis of the consumer confidence index. Few leisure-time activities have this kind of national impact.

See also: Commercialization of Leisure, Shopping Malls, Teenage Leisure Trends


Abelson, Elaine S. When Women Go A-Thieving: Middle-Class Shoplifters in the American Department Store. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Bowlby, Rachel. Carried Away: The Invention of Modern Shopping. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

Cohen, Lizabeth. A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.

Ershkowitz, Herbert. John Wanamaker, Philadelphia Merchant. Conshohocken, Pa.: Combined Publishing, 1999.

Hine, Thomas. I Want That! How We All Became Shoppers: A Cultural History. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002.

Horowitz, Daniel. The Morality of Spending: Attitudes Toward the Consumer Society in America, 1876–1930. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985.

Leach, William, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture. New York: Vintage Books, 1993.

Lears, Jackson. Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America. New York: Basic Books, 1994.

Matt, Susan J. Keeping Up with the Joneses: Envy in American Consumer Society, 1890–1930. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

Peiss, Kathy. Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986.

Herbert B. Ershkowitz


views updated May 29 2018


Early histories of shopping comprised celebratory histories of individual shops, and chronological accounts of retail progress (Adburgham). Recent studies have come from social, economic, and increasingly cultural history. They balance empirical and focused studies of shops and shopping with the more thematic agenda offered by consumption studies. A significant proportion of studies is devoted to shopping for clothes and related fashionable goods. This kind of shopping was associated with a particular set of shopping and retail practices.

The popularity of shopping as a subject for research is linked to the meteoric rise of the topic of consumption within a multitude of different disciplines, including history, sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, psychology, and geography. This phenomenon has been connected to an increasing dissatisfaction with Marxist production-led explanations for historical trends. The way people shop has since been identified as a defining characteristic of historical and contemporary societies (Miller et al.). Early work in the field connected the birth of modern consumer culture with the new availability of mass-produced goods in the late eighteenth century (McKendrick et al.). Subsequent studies have given more significance to changes in shopping practices. The arrival of the department store in the late nineteenth century has been seen as a marker of modern consumer cultures (Bowlby, Rappaport), and postwar supermarkets and malls have been closely tied to understandings of contemporary consumer society (Bowlby, Campbell in Miller).

The Shopper

The identification and definition of consumer identities has been an increasingly central component of shopping studies. Drawing on the semiotic theories of postmodernists such as Jean Baudrillard, consumer identities, and shopping types have often been appropriated for source material by a range of disciplines. These figures have been seen as the embodiment of contemporary attitudes to, and anxieties about, consumption, gender, class, ethnicity, modernity, and the urbanites. This approach has been criticized for obscuring the meaning of shopping itself within these identities, as Miller et al. express, "the shop-per … nearly always figures as a sign for something else." Within this work, shopping has been shown to be an important part of identity construction and performance, leading to the suggestion that within modern and post-modern consumer society, the self was the sum of consumption practices and goods bought. This idea of self-construction through shopping has been consistently promoted through store advertising, women's magazines, and other institutions of consumer culture. However, more specific studies have allowed shopping cultures and consumer identity to be mutually constitutive, ascribing more agency to the individual shopper, and the ability to negotiate different identities.

There has been a particular emphasis on identity within studies of Victorian consumption. For example, the Victorian London's shopping district has been revealed as home to newly confident female shoppers who used shopping to stake a claim to the city (Rappaport). This focus signals the advent of modern consumer culture, in which shopping was recognized as a meaningful practice and the consumer the key protagonist. From this point on, shops can be seen to sell "image" in addition to actual commodities, an image that was bound up with modern consumer identities. During the twentieth century, the centrality of the shopper within retail theory and its histories grew, reflecting a heightened under-standing of how consumer psychology could be applied to marketing. By the late twentieth century, the consumer was acknowledged as a primary economic and cultural force in society.

The study of the female shopper has dominated the field. This relates to the conceptualization of shopping as a strongly gendered practice by contemporaries as well as by many subsequent theorists. It has been presented as an essential component of the female domestic role, interpreted as a masculine seduction of the feminine through strategies of temptation and spectacle, and more recently as a more empowering, but essentially feminine, means of engaging with urban life. Bowlby summarizes this position: "The history of shopping is largely a history of women, who have overwhelmingly been the principal shoppers both in reality and in the multifarious representations of shopping" (Bowlby, p. 7). This gender imbalance has begun to be seriously addressed in the early twenty-first century. For example, Breward has identified significant groups of male shoppers in Victorian and Edwardian London, for whom shopping for clothes was an essential component of their fashionable urban identities.

Past studies of the shopper have often overlooked the centrality of the fashionable commodities themselves, which newer work has sought to address. It is the focus of consumers' attention on the goods in the window, and on the activity of shopping, that distinguishes them from other actors in the urban scene; the flaneur, the tourist, the prostitute. This approach allows an understanding of the role of shopping within the identity of clothes. It acknowledges the significance of garments' nature as "searched for" and "bought."

A Typography of Shops

Specificity of time and place are important to an under-standing of shopping. Particular retail formats, each with their characteristic architecture, planning, and shopping practices, have been considered emblematic of social trends within studies of consumption. Miller et al. relate how during the late 1980s and early 1990s the story of modern consumption coincided with a particular genealogy of the shop; "an accepted natural history of consumption took shape which, identifying consumption as a key characteristic of modernity, described an arc from the arcades and department stores of Paris through to the shopping malls of the United States."

Of course, shopping for clothes did not begin with the birth of modern consumer cultures. There is an older tradition of shopping, which includes drapers, tailors, and markets. The beginnings of a new approach to shop design and shopping, which emphasized luxury, spectacle, and leisure, have been identified in the seventeenth-and eighteenth-century shopping gallery, for example London's Westminster Hall, and the nineteenth-century arcade, such as the Burlington Arcade adjoining Piccadilly (Walsh in Benson and Ugolini).

The huge department stores of the late nineteenth century exploited these characteristics to the full. Drawing on the model of the Parisian Bon Marché, they styled themselves as "universal providers" and offered a range of additional services from hairdressing to libraries, but drapery and ready-made garments formed a central part of their trade. The department store has been associated with the advent of modern consumer cultures, the democratization of "luxury" consumer goods, and the prominence of display. It has also been linked to the broader themes of the growth of the middle classes, urbanization, and shifts in gender definitions (Bowlby, Rappaport).

The first half of the twentieth century witnessed the development of "multiples" or chain stores, which catered especially to the growing group of lower-middle-class consumers. In Britain, Marks & Spencer, C&A, and the Coop were especially important for women's and children's wear, while multiple tailors, such as Montague Burton, targeted men (Winship in Jackson et al.). There were also more exclusive multiples such as Austin Reed menswear and Russell and Bromley shoes. The shops constituted clearly identifiable brands, through their architecture, interior design, advertising, as well as merchandise. While frequently establishing a flagship on the principal urban thoroughfares, multiples have largely been associated with the suburban and provincial high street.

The story of postwar shopping has been dominated by the development of the "shopping center" and mall, burgeoning in the interwar United States, and spreading to Europe during the 1960s (Longstreth). They have

been studied intensively, and have often been interpreted as an articulation of postmodern society (Campbell in Miller). The new format was purpose-built and often privately regulated, usually enveloping both shops and a shopping street for pedestrians within a single building. Some have been located within city and town centers, replicating some of the characteristics of the department store. But they have been mainly associated with the urban fringe, dependent for business on increased levels of car ownership. A typical example in the United Kingdom is Meadow Hall, near Sheffield. Although very successful, these new shopping environments did not destroy the cultural and economic importance of the traditional high street.

An associated late twentieth-century development is the retail park: a series of shopping warehouses located out of town. This period additionally saw the expansion of the big supermarkets into clothing. Their marketing has emphasized value, with the controversial provision of cut-price designer jeans, and attempts have been made to secure the services of established designers, for example George at Asda in the United Kingdom. This era has also been characterized by the internationalization of retailing. On one hand, powerful controlling interests such as Wal-Mart have developed as a result of construction of new stores. On the other, multiples such as the Gap have opened outlets in shopping thoroughfares throughout the world.

Other Ways of Shopping

Alongside these sites of consumption, secondhand clothing continued to be an important part of shopping practices. Its retail venues shifted format and location within shopping networks over time, and were historically associated with a succession of different immigrant communities, working from street markets. From the latter part of the twentieth century, buying secondhand has flourished within the charity shop, retro-clothing specialists, market stalls, and flea markets.

However, shopping has not exclusively been tied to physically located retail sites. Mail order allowed shopping to take place from the home. Sears, Roebuck and Co. spearheaded mail order in the United States, with companies such as Freemans and Kays important in the United Kingdom.

It proved consistently popular throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, often linked to credit schemes and to companies with associated retail outlets, such as the United Kingdom's "Next Directory." From the end of the twentieth century, the potential of mail-order shopping expanded exponentially with the arrival of Internet shopping, potentially posing a more serious challenge to the future viability of the traditional shop, although retail clothing stores has been less seriously affected than other sectors.

There has been an unwillingness to study shopping cultures, which were not essentially novel, however, a more integrated understanding of shopping can be gained by studying the established and declining models alongside new ones. This approach better reflects the landscape of different shops, configured in particular ways within a single main street, a shopping route, or an individual's shopping trip. It also relates more closely to the clothing bought by shoppers; within a single wardrobe a chain-store shirt hangs next to a secondhand jacket quite unproblematically, although their owner remains aware of the provenance of each.

See alsoBoutique; Department Store; Mannequins; Window Displays .


Adburgham, Alison. Shops and Shopping. London: Allen and Unwin, 1964.

Benson, John, and Laura Ugolini, eds. A Nation of Shopkeepers: Five Centuries of British Retailing. London: I. B. Taurus, 2003.

Bowlby, Rachel. Carried Away: The Invention of Modern Shopping. London: Faber and Faber, 2000.

Breward, Christopher. The Hidden Consumer: Masculinities, Fashion and City Life, 1860–1914. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1999.

Crossick, Geoffrey and Serge Jaumain, eds. Cathedrals of Consumption: The European Department Store. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 1999.

Jackson, Peter, Michelle Lowe, Daniel Miller, and Frank Mort. Commercial Cultures: Economies, Practices, Spaces. Oxford and New York: Berg, 2000.

Longstreth, Richard. City Center to Regional Mall: Architecture, the Automobile, and Retailing in Los Angeles, 1920–1950. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 1997.

McKendrick, N., J. Brewer, and J. H. Plumb. The Birth of Consumer Society. London: Europa, 1982.

Miller, Daniel, ed. Acknowledging Consumption: A Review of New Studies. London: Routledge, 1995.

Miller, Daniel, et al. Shopping, Place and Identity. London: Rout-ledge, 1998.

Poster, Mark, ed. Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings. Oxford: Polity Press, 1988.

Rappaport, Erika. Shopping for Pleasure: Women and the Making of London's West End. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Somake, Ellis E. and Rolf Hellberg. Shops and Stores Today: Their Design, Planning and Organisation. London: B. T. Batsford, Ltd., 1956.

Bronwen Edwards


views updated May 14 2018


Shopping involves the purchasing of products by consumers, all of which fall into various shopping product categories that are based on the way consumers think of them and purchase them. The two main categories are convenience goods and shopping goods; two lesser categories are specialty items and unsought goods. Although most shopping products are sold in stores, such as retail, grocery, and specialty stores, some consumer purchases are made through other means, such as catalogue shopping, telemarketing, and online purchasing (also known as cybershopping). Cybershopping is the latest trend in consumer shopping. It is estimated that $300 billion worth of online purchases will be made in the first decade of the twenty-first century.


Convenience goods are goods that consumers purchase frequently, immediately, and with minimal effort. People do not spend a large amount of time shopping for convenience items. They are usually purchases made routinely, such as buying groceries on a weekly basis, or habitually, such as purchasing a daily newspaper. Convenience products include common staples, such as milk and bread. Some convenience goods, however, are not purchased routinely or habitually. They are bought on impulse, such as an ice cream cone on a summer day. Many impulse items are displayed in a manner that encourages quick choice and purchase, such as the candy, magazines, and batteries that are routinely placed near the cash register at checkout counters. Other convenience products may be purchased as emergency items, when the consumers feel there is an urgent need, such as buying candles, water, or canned goods when preparing for a storm. Convenience products can be found in stores such as supermarkets, convenience stores, and department stores.


Shopping goods are items consumers will conduct a search for in order to find the one that best suits their needs. They usually require an involved selection process. When purchasing a shopping product, consumers will compare a variety of attributes, such as suitability, quality, price, and style. Automobiles are often bought this way. Consumers may also visit a number of shopping places, such as retail stores, before they make a decision. Because of the importance of these types of purchases, consumers usually invest considerable time and energy before making such a purchase.

Shopping products are broken down into two categories: homogeneous and heterogeneous. Homogeneous shopping goods are those that are similar in quality but different in other characteristics. This difference in characteristics is sufficient for the customer to justify a search for the item. Items that are thought of as homogeneous, or the same, would include television sets, various home appliances, or automobiles. Homogeneous shopping goods are also often evaluated on price. After the consumer has decided on desired characteristics, he or she then looks for the most favorable price.

Heterogeneous shopping goods have product features that are often more important to consumers than price; examples include clothing, high-tech equipment, and furniture. The item purchased must meet certain consumerset criteria, such as size, color, or specific functions performed. When buying heterogeneous shopping goods, consumers often seek information and advice from sales-people and other experts before purchasing the item. The seller or retailer of heterogeneous shopping goods needs to carry a sufficient variety of the products to suit individual tastes and also needs well-trained salespeople to inform and advise consumers.


Specialty items have characteristics that compel consumers to make special efforts to find them. Consumers often do not consider price at all when shopping for specialty products, which can include almost any kind of shopping product, including particular types of food, expensive imported cars, or items from a well-known fashion designer or manufacturer that can all be considered specialty goods. Usually, specialty goods have a brand name or other type of distinguishing characteristic. Shopping goods are often classified as specialty products based on the location and need of the consumer. For example, some olive oils or wines may be a convenience product in Italy but a specialty product in the United States. Consumers who favor specialty products may travel considerable distances to purchase a particular item. These types of shopping products can often be found in specialty stores, which carry a large assortment within a small line of goods. An example would be a store that carries only candy, but many different types of candy. Other types of specialty stores include bookstores and sporting goods stores.

Unsought Goods

Unsought goods are products that consumers do not want, use, or even think about purchasing. An unsought shopping good could be a product that a consumer may not even know aboutor knows about but has never considered purchasing. In addition, consumers often put off purchasing unsought shopping goods because they do not consider them to be important. Unsought shopping goods are frequently brought to customers' attention through advertising, promotions, or chance. Sometimes they are something new on the market, such as digital telephones. At other times they are fairly standard services that some consumers would not bother shopping for, such as life insurance.

see also Consumer and Business Products


"Council of Better Business Bureau." Better Business Bureau Online. Retrieved October 29, 2005, from June 2000.

Encyclopedia Britannica. May 2000.

Heinzl, John (2000, June). "Year in Review 1998." Internet Retailing.

Audrey E. Langill


views updated Jun 27 2018

Shopping ★★ 1993 (R)

A crumbling British industrial city (filmed at London's docklands) is the bleak setting for gangs of aimless youth who steal cars, crash into the windows of various shops, grab what ever comes to hand, and then lead the police on highspeed chases. Adrenaline junkie Billy (Law) is accompanied by thrill seeking girlfriend Jo (Frost) on one such escapade while fending off rival Tommy (Pertwee), who doesn't like his burgeon ing criminal empire disturbed. Tries too hard for that rebel youth feeling. 86m/C VHS, DVD . GB Jude Law, Sadie Frost, Sean Pertwee, Fraser James, Sean Bean, Marianne Faith full, Jonathan Pryce, Daniel Newman; D: Paul W.S. Anderson; W: Paul W.S. Anderson; C: Tony Imi; M: Barrington Pheloung.


views updated May 18 2018

shop·ping / ˈshäping/ • n. [often as adj.] the purchasing of goods from stores: a busy shopping area. ∎  goods bought from stores, esp. food and household goods: I unloaded all the shopping.