1923 - Selling Space

Compared with supermarkets, the local shops that earlier generations would have patronised might seem absurdly small. Inside, they could be only 15-20ft deep. The counter might occupy half the width, with shelves behind it and around the walls. Customers expected a service where the shopkeepers' knowledge of their stock was combined with the tactful handling of individual whims - and with free home delivery on top. Regulars would have a weekly or monthly account rather than pay cash. Changes began with the general adoption of packaged goods in most branches of the retail trade. Instead of needing an army of assistants to serve, advise, measure and wrap, customers knew in advance what to expect and ask for. Later, they could even serve themselves if necessary. What special skills do shop staff need today?

The Stetchworth Dairy. Art Nouveau was a style that became extremely popular in turn-of-the-century Europe . Its flowing lines and sensual shapes are perhaps more familiar in the decorative arts - in pottery and stained glass, for instance - but it was also enthusiastically adapted to shop design. It was much less common in Britain than in France or Belgium , and this Cambridge shop front in Art Nouveau style is a rare survival, obscured for many years behind a plywood facade. Dairies were once common in towns, selling not just milk but cheese, butter, eggs, poultry and increasing numbers of other products as well, until diversification into general groceries was inevitable. Most goods would have been bought 'loose', measured and wrapped by the shopkeeper, as many dairy products indeed still are. Whether it was bulls-eyes, bacon or biscuits, customers could buy as much, or as little, as they required. If they ran out, they could come back the next day. With this kind of convenience shopping, people had no need to lay in stocks, as their forebears had. It also meant, to those on low incomes, that they need not spend so much at one time, although most regular customers would have had a credit account with the shop, settled on a weekly or monthly basis. By the time this particular shop opened, however, many foodstuffs were already being sold in prepacked, branded form, produced on an industrial basis to a uniform standard. Advertising induced customers to ask for one specific brand, so that they came to rely on the manufacturer's reputation far more than that of the shopkeeper. When self-service came in in the 1950s, the retailer's role became even less that of a skilled salesperson and more that of the final link in a distribution chain.

1907 - Changing faces

1935 - Chain Store