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A Tale of Retail Evolution

Author: Ava Taros

Date: 2022-Jun-27

The retail industry has existed in various forms almost from time immemorial. By 800 BC in ancient Greece, merchants sold their wares in markets (Agoras) in the city center. The Roman forum was possibly the earliest example of a permanent retail shop-front. In its earliest forms, retail involved direct selling via merchants or peddlers, and bartering goods was a commonplace practice.

In a common marketplace within medieval cities, local farmers came to trade the products that they produced (milk, vegetables, bread, meat, textiles) with other local farmers. Industry historians refer to these medieval marketplaces as “the first malls.” According to historical findings, the first proper currency extends as far back as 3000 BC in Mesopotamia, serving as an alternative for the barter system.


The birth of organized retail

Retail became an organized industry in the 18th and 19th centuries with the appearance of covered markets, specialty shops, and department stores. Shopping from home became an option with the appearance of catalogs in the late 1800's.

The first department store is thought to be the Bon Marché in Paris, which opened as a small shop in the early 19th century. In 1875, John Wanamaker brought the concept to the United States by populating a rail-freight depot in Philadelphia with a collection of specialty retailers.

Consolidated retail at the end of the 20th century

Moving on to modern times, we can see that the retail industry boomed in the 1980s. Due to rapid population growth and migration to the suburbs, malls and stores popped up everywhere.

In the 1990s, retail underwent massive consolidation. In the US, Allied, Federated and May Company all became Macys. Most regional department stores disappeared while big box retailers emerged. At the same time outlet shopping became popular.

The retail revolution of the 2000s

The offering of a wide range of products online in the early 2000s was more of an explosion than a revolution, that changed the face of retail as we knew it. Off-price companies gained strength and inventory management became key. From the 2010s, competitive alternative consumer channels emerged. Social media became a popular location for purchases. Ecommerce businesses flourished while physical store owners struggled. Competition between large corporations and marketplaces like Walmart and Amazon resulted in the offering of new services. Upping the ante, Amazon introduced next-day delivery for Prime customers.
Today, giants like Amazon, Walmart, ASOS have taken over the market, pushing out small online store owners who simply can’t compete.

Changing technologies in retail

Historically, retailers are reluctant to embrace changing technologies and innovative formats. The demise of malls and physical shops constituted a major blow, to be followed by the pressing and costly need to develop online websites and revolutionize payment methods. The introduction of additional purchasing platforms and social media also constituted a thorn in the side of online retail. The ability to provide the purchaser with a memorable shopping experience is key to online success. Today, various technologies enable the use of actionable data to personalize and streamline the customer journey. Other technologies provide automated cataloging of products to facilitate shopping processes. But we at Giftoin believe that more advanced technologies are about to revolutionize retail yet again.

Introducing DeCentralized Retail

Decentralization is a process that is gradually taking over finance, payments, social media, and other areas. Blockchain-based technology removes third parties like banks and credit card companies from payment processes, thereby lowering fees and commissions. The same technology limits the control of corporate retail giants, and enables small online businesses to compete. Decentralized technology encourages transparency and privacy, while habitual shopping behavior held in a purchaser’s wallet becomes public knowledge. This means that small businesses can offer specific buyers special prices on items that they purchase on a regular basis. By understanding the buyer’s personal requirements, small online retailers need to maintain only a limited inventory, thereby lowering costs considerably. While this technology is still in the infant stages, there is no doubt that the future of retail lies in decentralized, blockchain-based technology. Hold on to your hats, because DeCentralized Shopping is set to be retail’s most exciting development yet.

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