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Monday, 10 August 2015 | By Gerry Mulvaney


By Gerry Mulvaney, European Sales Manager, Landa Digital Printing

I was chatting to my old mum (nearly 100 years old and still as sharp as a tack) the other day about her shopping habits. Of course she doesn’t do much of it now and is well looked after in a care home around the corner from us. But she has very strident views on the changes in the shopping experience over the years, and the decline in customer service as supermarkets replaced our high street shops in the ‘60s and ‘70s. She regards it as do-it-yourself shopping and her strong views on self-service checkouts are unprintable.

One thing we agreed on was that the responsibility for the transaction has changed from the shopkeeper to the customer so that the importance of packaging and POS (point of sale) materials now takes precedence over customer service.

She recalled that in her youth butter was sourced locally and wrapped in brown paper, along with other staples such as sugar and flour. More often than not it was also delivered to her home by a boy on a bike. There was no need to market the products, as they were the only ones available anyway, so there was no real choice on offer to the customer.

The arrival of supermarkets in the UK changed all that. Suddenly there was a plethora of choice for the housewife to consider. The need to promote individual brands and persuade the customer of the merits of butter from Denmark and New Zealand, as opposed to that from the UK and Ireland, followed suit.

Shopping, according to my mum, was now a longer job. The decision-making over what you were going to buy was made by the customer selecting from a range of different brands, rather that the shopkeeper stocking one or two items and recommending the one to purchase. And as the range of products on offer has increased, the number of shop staff offering help and advice has decreased and the buying decision is now the sole responsibility of the customer.

There are other examples of this transfer in responsibilities in retailing – we book our own flights and print our boarding cards rather than use travel agents. In stores like Ikea we even complete the manufacturing process in our own homes.

Packaging and Point of Sale Displays are the “Shopkeepers” of Today

Today the shopkeeper’s role in advising customers has been taken over by packaging and POS (point of sale) displays. The big brands are spending very large sums on describing their features and benefits at the point where purchasing decisions are made – on their packaging, in the shopping aisles and on the shelves.

 Retail in the past and today

The retail experience: then and now

Brand names jostling for space with their competitors, even paying for the right position in the customer’s eye line, has replaced the wise advice and friendly service that my mum claims was a better way of shopping.

But life moves on. Perhaps today’s young shoppers buying from Amazon and eBay on their smartphones, in their later years will look back with a similar nostalgia at shelf-talkers, posters and displays.

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