Retail Experience

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Over the last century, the experience of shopping for food in the UK has changed dramatically. This section gives an insite into many of these changes, and traces the diverse methods used by different retailers. You will be able to listen to the extracts and access both a transcript and some background information for each recording.

Delia Green

Delia Green's mother ran a corner shop in Northampton during the 1950s. Here, Delia describes the atmosphere in the shop and the conversations that took place between her mother and the customers.

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Transcript

Read more about the history of retailing in the UK, from small specialist shops to large supermarkets.

David Gregory

Self service supermarkets were introduced into Britain from America after World War II. Here, David Gregory describes his first experience of walking into a supermarket.

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Transcript

Read more about the rise of supermarkets to the place they occupy today - a 75% share of the UK food market.

Jenny Linford

Food writer Jenny Linford is the author of the guide book 'Food Lover's London'. Here, she describes why she enjoys shopping at markets rather than supermarkets for her food.

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Transcript

Read more about the changing fortunes of our markets as they compete with chain superstores but also offer consumers locally produced, ethical and organic foods.

Norman Robson

Norman Robson learnt about the food retail trade from a young age, having helped out in his family's grocery shop as a boy in the 1930s. Norman went on to train as food technologist and to work for Marks and Spencer. Here, he remembers his family's grocery shop.

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Transcript

Read more about the history of retailing in the UK, from small specialist shops to large supermarkets.

Supermarket employee

The man interviewed in this extract has worked for one of Britain's largest supermarket chains since the age of 14. In that time, he has witnessed supermarkets grow to the point where four large companies dominate 75% of Britain's grocery outlets. Here, he talks about clubcards.

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Transcript

Read more about the technologies, including scanning and clubcards, that have contributed to the rise of the supermarket.

Background

Throughout the 1800s, and even up until a few decades ago, food shopping for many people in the UK was a daily activity involving trips to the butcher, the fishmonger, the baker and the grocer. A London street directory from 1870 lists the following shops on a single street: confectioner, grocer, tobacconist, pub, dairyman, tripe seller and cheesemonger.

For most of the 1800s and until the 1950s, shop assistants would serve individual customers directly. The idea of customers helping themselves was unheard of. Many ingredients such as butter and flour had to be weighed and bagged by the shop staff before being sold to the customer. Goods were sometimes bought 'on tap' and paid for once a month. Shopping was often delivered to customers' homes via a delivery boy on a bike or in a van - or in the 1800s, a horse and cart.

The rise of the supermarket

In 1937, the first supermarket opened in America, paving the way for a revolution in shopping. Customers entered the store through turnstiles and walked through a narrow maze of shelves containing groceries on the walls. They selected their goods as they continued through the maze to a cashier. Instantly, packaging and brands became important to companies and consumers. By 1956, there were 3000 self-service stores in operation in the UK and as these shops grew in size they became known as 'supermarkets'.

For the modern supermarket customer the experience of shopping is incomparable with shopping in the past. Rather than shopping everyday from a selection of specialist shops, supermarket customers tend to visit the store, often by car, and stock up for a week's worth of supplies at one time. Today, 75% of the UK's total grocery market is controlled by the four largest supermarkets.

Virtual shopping

But in the near future, visiting a supermarket may be a thing of the past. Modern food consumers are now able to shop online in virtual stores and organise delivery to the home. Some avoid buying food from supermarkets altogether as shown by the growth of farmer's markets and organic delivery schemes.

For some, modern food retailing and particularly the supermarket is a sign of progress that saves consumers time and money and offers exceptional choice. For others, supermarkets are blamed for the disappearance of smaller grocery shops, the increase in the use of motor cars and the unfair dealings with farmers and food manufacturers. Whether you are in favour, unconcerned or angry about the growth of supermarkets in the UK, the fact remains that they have altered the way we shop for food forever.