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The History of Retail

Retail is the selling of goods and services to consumers in order to make a profit. It does not matter how an advanced society we have become this type of economic activity has been in operation since man first occupied the planet. Today the amount of retail available is vast and can range from the simplest transaction of purchasing a litre of milk to the complicated procedure of buying and selling shares in one of the world’s leading money markets.

A country’s economic success is totally dependent upon its population being successful in carrying out the process of retail. If they are unable to even out buying and selling, then the country will suffer from this disparity. If a nation has successful retailers, then it is likely to have a buoyant economy. Today’s retailers occupy state-of-the-art shopping malls employing many people to successfully complete transactions. In previous generation such modern-day luxuries were not available, yet people still managed to trade. Even before currencies were introduced people used to barter in order to get rid of the goods that they had plenty of and receive goods that they required.

The remains of Trajan’s Forum in Rome

The exchange of goods through the barter system occurred up to 10,000 years ago and would often occur in markets. Each town had a central place that would hold a market and people would visit to either sell or buy. As soon as coins were introduced it became far easier for the transactions to be completed. Leading the way was Greece and Rome with certain towns specializing in certain types of markets. It was easier to get fish at a coastal town because during these periods it was virtually impossible to keep produce as fresh as it is kept today.

In Rome there was the Trajan’s Forum. This was an area of four levels of buildings where goods were bought and sold. This was the first type of retail shop front and people could see the benefits of having organized shops instead of just buying from goods laying down on mats.

As soon as currency was introduced then the retailers became larger. Now the larger landowners really benefited as they would have so much produce to sell that their new income meant that they could travel further to locate the better and more luxurious goods that they desired. The smaller landowners at the end of the harvest would have a small amount of surplus they they would take to the market and would sell in order to buy things that they required.

High streets full of shops and customers

With the larger producers now earning more money they were able to employ people to work their land which in turn would produce more output and lead to more income. It was an upward spiral of success and when the Industrial revolution arrived in Europe at the end of the 18th century these were the people who were able to take advantage of these economic opportunities.

They were of course the people who were also taking the greatest risks as an inability to sell certain goods would result in these entrepreneurs taking the financial hit. As industry emerged they were still part of retail. They were producing goods that other people wanted to buy, and as long as there was demand for certain goods there was always some ambitious person who was willing to try and supply the market.

The huge growth in cities during the industrial revolution is due to the fact that as people were attracted into a certain area they needed goods and services in order to survive. They were quickly followed by other goods and services and so the population would increase. An example would be if a large car factory is created in a small town many other businesses will soon follow into that area in order to provide for the new workers basic needs.

There is opposite is also true. If a town over relies on one particular industry, then the closure of that industry can have dire effects on other businesses in the area. This has been in the case in the old mining towns in Northern England and South Wales.

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