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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Natasha Dean

Hugh Hancock

English

10/07

Harry Gordon Selfridge: An American Retail Magnate

INTRODUCTION It is hard to imagine that we weren't always a country full of consumerists. Where everyone of every class can buy items we want instead of just the things we need. He came up with many ideas that changed the way people shopped. He changed shopping into a magical, tactile, and fun experience. Harry turned retail into a display of showmanship. How exactly did Mr. Selfridge change shopping and how exactly did this affect society? Mr. Selfridge was an innovator, he changed the world of shopping, and significantly helped pave the pathway to consumerism. (Goodman 1.)

1st Paragraph Mr. Selfridge was a marketing genius. Born into a lower-class family, his mother went from supplementing her income by painting greeting cards to the head mistress of Jackson High School. I do believe he had good influences that led him where he went. He got his first job delivering newspapers when he was 10. He went through quite a few different job titles. He worked in Leonard Fields dry-goods store, a bank, at a furniture factory and in the insurance industry. This no doubt contributed to a well-rounded worker. Finally he began working at the Marshall Field and Company and worked his way up. He was a hard worker and a man well beyond his time. Selfridge was famously quoted on several of his ideals, he was a man who preferred to be more of a leader and less of a boss.

Harry felt that the Field's store was too formal. He began to install phones so customers could call, he increased the lighting in the store, and was the first in Chicago to start lighting up the window displays at night.  He wanted to appeal to women, an untapped market, and widely regarded as a huge act that helped to liberate women. He added classes for women in store, and introduced the idea of a wedding gift list, he even may have very well been the first in the U.S. to put in a dining restaurant inside a store.

He eventually went off to build and design his own department store, famously known as Selfridge and Co, after his boss refused to rename the company “Marshall Field & Selfridge”. Harrys store opened in 1909 and was a 300-million-dollar investment. His store was incredibly spacious. With open interior and with lots of lighting, he claimed it created a ‘lightness and brightness throughout the store'. He even had the contractors build the counters lower than usual so that customers could ‘see from end to end of the building'. There were several passenger lifts, six stairways, eight floors, including a customer service department, a first aide room, waiting rooms, a restaurant, and a roof garden. It was the third biggest attraction in London.

Selfridge wanted to make the customers as comfortable as possible and to keep them in the store as long as possible. His displays were arranged so that customers could walk around, and touch things, and be enticed. He was the first to display his products in glass cases, so everyone could see. He persuaded others to think of these people less like customers and more like guests. He didn't want his shopkeepers to be aggressive towards any of the customers.

Harry was also a bit of a genius when it came to marketing. He was the first to establish the ‘theatre of retail'. He used attractions to get people to flock to his store. He had Louis Bleriot himself, a renowned pilot, and his plane on display, this was huge and innovative. He drew crowds of over 150,000. He began to incorporate more and more pop culture icons into his marketing strategies. He pursued celebrity endorsements, in the 1980's he had the Star Wars villain Darth Vadar make an appearance. Sulfridge & Co was the first British department store to advertise on TV.

His vision was starkly different from the current shopping experience. Once Harry was in a store, and when the shopkeeper asked if he intended to buy something and Harry said no, the shopkeeper told him to, “piss off”, something that definitely stuck with him. In other stores when you walked in a shopkeeper would greet you and walk you around the store. There was no showmanship, no emphasis on displays, it was incredibly dull and shopping for pleasure wasn't really a thing.

The effects of Mr. Selfridges attention to detail and ideals he contributed to retail were grandiose. Research has shown that a stores environment has direct impact on a person's emotional and cognitive state. Music, lighting, décor and scents affects consumer response. While these aspects are just variables, the power of suggestion helps persuade consumers to spend their money.

It is truly incredible to think that consumerism wasn't always a part of our society. Mr. Selfridge was a retail magnate who put fun in store, and sex appeal into shopping. He spurred and pushed the radical idea that people can shop for pleasure as well as necessity. He played a sizeable role in liberating women and was a major influence in the retail world. He was a genius and an innovator, and the world never looked back. So the next time you go shopping, think of how you are being manipulated, it is quite astounding.

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