A Business and Social History
Since its inception in the late 19th century, Britain's mail order industry both exploited and generated social networks in building its businesses. The common foundation of the sector was the agency system; Sales were made through catalogues held by agents, ordinary people in families, neighbourhoods, pubs, clubs and workplaces. Through this agency system mail order firms in Britain were able to tap social networks both to build a customer base, but also to obtain
vital information on creditworthiness.In this, the first comprehensive history of the British mail order industry, the authors combine business and social history to fully explain
the features and workings of this industry. They show how British general mail order industry firms such as Kay and Co., Empire Stores, Littlewoods, and Grattan grew from a range of businesses as diverse as watch sales or football pools. A range of business innovations and strategies were developed throughout the twentieth century, including technological development and labour process rationalisation. Indeed, the sector was in the vanguard of many aspects of change from supply chain logistics
to computerization. The social and gender profile of the home shopper also changed markedly as the industry developed. These changes are charted, from the male-dominated origins of the industry to the
growing influence of women both within the firm and, more importantly, as the centre of the mail order market. The book also draws parallels and contrasts with the much more widely studied mail order industry of the United States.The final section of the book examines the rise of internet shopping and the new challenges and opportunities it provided for the mail order industry. Here the story is one of continuity and fracture as the established mail order companies
struggle to adjust to a business environment which they had partly created, but which also rested on a new range of core competencies and technological and demographic change.