Sunday, December 02, 2007

Counting Down to Christmas

It is the First Sunday in Advent and wherever you go in Britain or the US, stores are decked out in Christmas decorations and all are Counting Down to Christmas.

But who started this tradition?

The honour was claimed by one Gordon Selfridge.
And surely if any man who should be lauded for transforming the shopping experience at Christmas -- both in the uK and the US, it is he.

Selfridge was an American and first started the tradition in the Marshall Field store in Chicago. He also introduced carol singers, free gifts with purchases and generally tried to make the shopping experience pleasurable. He discovered that customers responded to the idea of Christmas and Christmas related themes. I believe he even started the whole idea of personal shoppers and gift guides.
He got his start with Marshall Fields as a stockboy in 1879, but 1890 he was a junior partner. He came over to the UK in the early 1900s(1906) and started Selfridge's in 1909. The reason hedid so is slightly murky and no one really knows the full truth but around about then Marshall Field was incorporated and there is some speculation that he was not as well treated as he thought he deserved. The department store he created was the largest built from scratch rather than by expansion.

He did not start the annual or even the fire sale, but what he did was to create the idea that shopping is aspirational. He wanted to create a desire, but he also wanted the expereince to be available to all who entered his shop -- whether it was to purchase a very expensive item or the cheapest one. he made shopping into an event for all to share. He was very keen on window displays and showing how a product might be worn or incoprporated into a lifestyle. He thought of his department store as living theatre. Because of his success at getting the public flock to his stores and stay, spending money, his ideas were copied all over the world.
Certainly when I worked as a teenager at I Magnins, it did feel like a stage set. And it was all about treating the customer right -- no matter the size of the purchase! I did gift wrapping and as long as the item was purchased from Magnins, we would wrap it in the appropriate sized box. Magnin's boxes at Christmas were always gold with I Magnin's written in deep burguny red, and tied with a burgundy ribbon. Before being placed in the box, the present enveloped in tissue paper and sealed with a gold Magnins label. It was great fun in many ways.

Anyway, love or loathe Christmas and its shopping, Gordon Selfridge's innovation appears to have worked.

1 comment:

Carrie Lofty said...

Marshall Field's was bought out by Macy's in 2006, so this is the first Christmas all the MF traditional decor will be replaced with Macy's crap.