part-time musings

Tag: retail

How shoppers helped invent the supermarket

Some research I worked on in 2007 as part of the Reconstructing Landscapes Project has been developed into an article co-authored with Andrew Alexander and published this month by the journal, Enterprise and Society. In ‘Co-Creation of a Retail Innovation’, we examined shoppers’ reactions to the development of early supermarket retailing in post-war Britain and drew on insights from recent research on the role of consumers in innovation to show that more attention needs to be given to the shopper’s input in the debate on retail innovation, including the supermarket.

Shoppers’ contributions to the supermarket innovation are shown to be multi-faceted in nature, incorporating processes of co-production and value creation; processes that were altered in the transition from counter-service to self-service retail environments. Shoppers’ discussions of such alterations were frequently structured around four aspects of interaction; with the physical environment of the store, with the goods for sale, with other shoppers and with shop staff. Continue reading more….


Shop Talk

Oral History Journal vol 37 2009My article ‘Investigating Shopper Narratives on the Supermarket in Early Post-War England, 1945-75’ has just been published in the March issue of Oral History.

The article looks at the complexities surrounding consumer reaction to changes in food shopping between 1945 and 1975 and is based on research we did for the Reconstructing Consumer Landscapes Project. The article introduces approaches to understanding consumers, and looks, in particular, at the reactions of consumers to the self-service retail innovation and the rise of supermarkets when they were introduced in Britain in the early post-war period. The article highlights some of the strengths we observed in our use of oral history interviewing for this type of research, and we also discuss our use of a content analysis approach to analyze material from the interviews.

Street Trading in Africa: lessons from Dakar and Durban

The riots this week in Dakar in response to government efforts to clamp down on street traders remind us of the central role that informal trading plays in African cities, and equally of the disdain with which many governments and local authorities view the practice.

Local and national authorities in Africa trying to ‘clean up’ their cities generally dislike street traders. Not only are street traders regarded as an disorderly presence, cluttering and degrading the city landscape, there is also a perception that street trading is linked with poverty, criminality, and is somehow not a ‘legitimate’ form of retailing for modern, organized cities.

However, street-trading is frequently a more sophisticated practice than is made out, and street traders share many characteristics with brick and mortar retailers.

Street traders may have capitalization rates similar to other retailers of comparable size (Barry Isaac, ‘Price, Competition, and Profits among Hawkers and Shopkeepers in Pendembu, Sierra Leone’, Economic Development and Cultural Change, Vol. 29 (2), 1981), and are similarly committed to ongoing overhead costs such as licensing fees, rent, transportation, and storage.

Like all retailers, street traders are also concerned about the quality of their retail space. They are make assessments about the amount of selling space they need to be profitable. Here, for example, the Chairperson of the Queen Street traders in Durban, Dumisani Mthembu, is complaining to the Tribune that the profitability of his business was being affected by a reduction in his selling area by the city council:

“I have been selling here since 1996. I feed nine people, including my mother. Now they are reducing the area where I trade. How can you feed your family from such a small place?”

Small traders are also concerned about location, and what this means for access to their clientele. A Reuters report on the recent Dakar riots noted that a proposal to set up four permanent market precincts was rejected out of hand by traders who argued that this would remove them from the main thoroughfares used by their customers.

Certainly, locational convenience is hugely important to shoppers, as two quotations from a recent BBC online discussion on street hawkers in Africa show:

A Nairobi resident commented that, “I don’t think street hawkers are a nuisance because they sell things at a cheaper rate and more available as one is going home can get things on the way”.

And a Lagosian similarly noted that: “Come to think of it. How many people go into shops to buy vegetables, fruits, plantain, yam tubers and other perishable food items? …. after all, everybody is in a hurry and prefers to buy things while on the move to save time.”

Street traders share similar infrastructural requirements to other retailers, including: a need for protection from crime, reliable access to amenities such as electricity, water, lighting, and sanitation. City authorities are usually best placed to provide, or facilitate access to, these resources, but the antagonistic attitude of many city governments to street trading in Africa means that this is frequently not forthcoming.

However, not all cities adopt a negative approach to street trading. A recent report by the World Bank Development Institute highlights Durban as a particularly noteworthy example of positive local government engagement with the informal retail sector. Durban city authorities have encouraged the participation of street traders in local governance, for example providing them with a role in area-based management initiatives and providing forums for discussion and decision-making at large trading areas such as Warwick Junction. Durban city authorities have also invested heavily in providing infrastructure for street traders- setting up new markets, improving market facilities, and improving the provision of services such as sanitation, lighting, storage, and rubbish removal.

Essentially, cities have a choice between spending money on trying to prevent street trading, or on making it work. Given the large number of people who rely on street trading in African cities, both as a source of income or because it’s where they buy their food, one hopes that African cities will increasingly choose the latter option and come to regard street trading as a legitimate and valuable feature of the modern urban landscape.