"London's Greatest Store" : Selfridge's and the Evolution of British Retail
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Born and raised in the United States, Harry Gordon Selfridge was a revolutionary entrepreneur who changed the way shopping was done in Great Britain during the twentieth century, a time when British retail was not necessarily conducive to change. Department stores in America were becoming ever more popular with examples such as Wanamaker's in Philadelphia and New York, Marshall Field's in Chicago, and The Bon Marche in Seattle. Contrasting their American counterparts, British stores were under developed, and still had the feel of the small independent shops that were popular during the nineteenth century. Today, all department stores in London have remodeled themselves to compete with the system brought to England by Selfridge. During the beginning of the twentieth century, Selfridge noticed this difference in British consumer culture, and decided to make the migration to the United Kingdom in order to fill this gap himself. This study explores how Selfridge was able to achieve such success so early on in his English career. What steps were taken to ensure that the British public would be open to buying their goods from an American immigrant? Many measures were taken to ensure that Harry Gordon Selfridge, a proclaimed master of commerce, would be able to transform British retail trade. From his upbringing in Michigan, to time spent at Marshall Field's in Chicago, to his decision to take his expertise overseas, Selfridge unknowingly spent his life getting ready for this great project. He made a name for himself, both in England and in the United States because of the advances he made in the world of retail commerce. The author discusses Selfridge’s successful introduction of mass-produced products, the grand architecture and layout of the store, and advertising. These ads included illustrations that were meant to attract all genders and social classes. "The Man's Best Buying Place," one ad declared. Selfridge appealed to the lower classes, which had grown disenchanted with the Industrial Revolution in the previous century. Common people felt that the Industrial Revolution led to social, political, and economic changes that interrupted their way of life and further isolated them from the elite classes. Selfridge's ads conveyed that the store aimed to close this gap and create a space where all classes could shop and enjoy themselves. Today, Selfridge's is still an important addition to the London shopping scene, due to the steps taken by Harry Gordon Selfridge during the early twentieth century. Lacking the ionic columns, strategic store layout, and never-before-seen advertising, it is possible that department stores in London would not have modernized.