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The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Consumption and Consumer Studies by J. Michael Ryan, Daniel Thomas Cook

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Department Stores

KEITH SPILLER

Open University, UK

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs094

Department stores were the first all-purpose shops housing extensive ranges of products. Late nineteenth-century department stores were significant in the transition from an economy centered on production to one based on consumption (Lancaster 1995). Prior to the emergence of the department store, the urban milieu was very different – there were numerous small and specialist stores and shopping involved traversing from store to store. Department stores sold mass-produced commodities in bulk and, while they did sell high-end expensive goods, most stores were intent on making a quick and profitable turnover. Alongside their commercial imperative, the stores were also influential in introducing a number of new social protocols, as well as having a lasting effect on the urban landscape. Department stores helped to introduce new sensibilities and ways of shopping to the middle classes, who in turn became the new cultural intermediaries for the emerging cultures of consumption. The stores also helped to cultivate international appeal and notoriety, for example Parisian “chic,” New York “sophistication,” and Western “modernity.”

The first department stores took their inspiration from the nineteenth-century Great Exhibition and World Fairs hosted by cities such as London, New York, and Paris (Laermans 1993). Adopting the presentation techniques promoted at the exhibitions, department stores utilized ...

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