But let’s take it back exactly 100 years. The U.S. Congress had just authorized the post office to deliver packages. This was the beginning of parcel post, which kicked off January 1, 1913.
Marc Levinson writes in a Bloomberg.com posting that the impact on local retailers parallels what e-tailing is doing currently: Booksellers, hardware stores, and all sorts of other retailers faced the reality that, even with the shipping costs, merchandise from Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Ward would cost less. Prior to parcel post, the railway express shipping charges for large items were prohibitive, and delivery would be made only to central locations rather than to the house.
With parcel post, the local retailers who wanted to survive had to:
- Sell items that couldn’t be obtained via parcel post. This was difficult when competing with the comprehensiveness of a catalog, but it could be done, such as by selling locally-produced distinctive merchandise.
- Provide additional value to justify the additional cost on items which could be obtained via parcel post. Advice, training, and other services would add such value.
The lesson is for smart retailing communities to avoid turf battles they’re unlikely to win. Prior to 1910, the railroads, express companies, National Association of Retail Grocers, and National Retail Hardware Association had all lobbied against the implementation of parcel post. But the best that could be hoped for was a holding action. Consumers want value, and loyalty flees promptly. Devote your resources to providing distinctive offerings and unparalleled value.
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Learn From the History of Giant Retailers