The more things change, the more they stay the same. At least that’s what our parents used to tell us.
Researching the history of Mount Vernon, Ohio’s dry goods stores and department stores, I came across a 1915 newspaper notice that Mr. J. W. Rudin (my grandfather) of the A. A. Dowds Dry Goods Co. led a discussion on “How Can We Meet Mail Order Competition?” for the Ohio Retail Dry Goods Association. Just a few years before, Sears added a promise to its hugely successful catalog – “Your money back if you are not satisfied!”
Small town stores, Rudin’s Department Store included, have always had to fight to attract customers to their friendlier, but smaller inventoried businesses. I don’t know what my grandfather said at that meeting almost one hundred years ago, but I do recall many family conversations about how to persuade citizens to spend their money in town instead of out of town: customer service, developing loyalty to local commerce,and providing quality merchandise .
In 2009 the competition is the Internet sales – the medium for seeing the product and for making the purchase. Internet ordering serves the same purpose that mail ordering did….the customer could drool over a catalog with limitless items to picture in one’s own home, send the money and wait for delivery. Life is simple.
This time it’s the retail giants who have to fight mail order a.k.a. FedEx and UPS trucks rumbling up and down our streets delivering all those Internet orders. I am sure that my grandfather and my father are both relieved that they don’t have to face cyber competition. So… some things have changed, but not really.
Check out the history of Sears’ catalog.