How Did the First Department Store Impact Modern Retail?

by Business 22 April 2024

what was the first department store

We have all been to a department store. However, you might wonder, why is it called so? Do you know what was the first department store?

Department stores are named so, as they sell multiple products. There are individual departments for respective products. So you find them easily. Most department stores in the USA stock clothing, hardware, home appliances, cosmetics, toiletries, and DIY.

The first department store was “Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche”. Aristide Boucicaut and his wife Marguerite fathomed the concept behind the store. Are you now intrigued to know what was the first department store in the us? It is Arnold Constable.  The store focused on essential dry goods.

Subsequently, the nature and stature of department stores changed in and out. Most retail brands nowadays target them. We will study the transition of department stores into hotspots of modern retail here.  

Origins of Department Stores

Origins of Department Stores

Aristide Boucicaut and his wife Marguerite opened the first department store to create a sensation. But, department stores are now the most desired and sophisticated retail shopping sources.

Definition and Concept of Department Stores

Cambridge defines a department store as a:

“Large shop divided into several different parts, each of which sells different things”

However, Oxford Reference states that department stores are a retail organization that sells a variety of products. The source also says that typical products in a department store are clothing, home furnishings, and home care products.

 Emergence of Department Stores in the 19th Century

Jonathan Glancey from BBC holds department stores responsible for changing how we shop. Now you know what was the first department store. But you will learn here how these stores became diverse.

In the first half of the 19th century, department stores focused on the fashion needs of women. Harding, Howell & Co was the most successful London-based store in the 19th century. It is also the first department store in England. After that, London became the precursor of free-flowing shopping.

In the mid -19th century, England based Crystal Palace had collections from all around the world. Rich customers only flocked there. They came with a quest to discover something new. However, the purpose of department stores has changed now. The modern customers visit department stores to shop necessary and targeted products now.

Evolution of Retail Spaces into Department Stores

 Retail stores of individual product types dominated in the 19th and early 20th centuries. However, department stores started catching our attention with lavish store designs and huge shelf spaces. Moreover, most FMCG brands started favoring department stores during distribution.

Brands could easily track and regulate consumers’ shopping habits through department stores. Store designs and intelligent placement of products compels people to make impulse purchases. After that, these buying habits become regular.

Evolution of Retail Spaces

Evolution of Retail Spaces

Description of Early Retail Spaces

The concept of retail stores came into being in ancient Greece. Producers and manufacturers started selling their surpluses. So people could access the products that they never used before. Gradually, those stores became organized and more commercialized.

Transition From Small Shops to Larger Retail Spaces

Small shops started emerging from retail spaces. These shops sold the most popular items only. However, the idea of modern-day large retail spaces is different. With time, sellers became aware of specific customer needs.

They stored the highest-selling items in larger volumes. After that, we got our modern-day large retail spaces.

Influence of Industrialization on Retail Environments

 Industrialization is the biggest driver of modern-day department stores. The first department store in America emerged during the Industrial Revolution. Small-scale retailers earned more profit by improving production.

Canada has also revolutionized the retail space. But do you know what was the first department store in canada? The store was Henry Morgan, which inspired brands like Canadian Tire down the line.

Gradually, they increased product prices and production volumes too. As a result, they became industrialists. Then, they started controlling retail spaces and set up shopping malls. The objective was to target the blue-collar section of society. Not only did they have more purchasing parity, but they wanted to shop from premium stores too.

Most of us now don’t know what was the first department store. But it has influenced our shopping habits big time.

Development of the First Department Store

Development of the First Department Store

Identification of the First Department Store

Bon Marche, a small shop in Paris, is the first department store. This shop changed the retail landscape. People could explore newer product categories here. However, the store did not last long.

If you search what was the first department store, you will frequently get the name Harding, Howell & Co. In reality, it is the first department store in england, which saw success. It is the first organized and successful department store.

John Wanamaker was amazed with the idea of a department store. He went on to launch the concept in the US. He accumulated a few specialty retailers and opened a store in Philadelphia. However, few sources credit Arnold Constable as the first department store in the United States. The store opened in New York.

Key features of The First Department Store

The first department store, Bon Marche, had a broad product portfolio. However, it suffered due to the shortage of space. Nevertheless, it had a key role in setting up an urban hotspot.

People constantly visited the stores. As a result, it created a sense of community development. It also inspired other retailers to launch the same concept.

Impact of the First Department Store on Retail Industry

The most significant impact of the first department store is the emergence of an upscale marketplace. Shopping from a retail store was driven by necessity. But, department store shopping became a lifestyle thing. People’s shopping perspectives changed.

To understand the impact of the first department store, we should remember Harry Selfridge. He is a maestro of advertisement and branding. He used the store to showcase new things people could buy. The first department store acted the same way to create appeal among consumers.

Legacy of the First Department Store

Legacy of the First Department Store

Influence of the First Department Store on Modern Retail Practices

The first department store influenced John Wanamaker. He opened the first store in the USA. This was a landmark event. Above all, his store opened during industrialization. This era marked a rise in income and increase of purchasing power.

People with higher disposable income spend more on shopping. As a result, the number of department stores multiplied. What first started as impulse buying, now became a part of lifestyle. To clarify, modern retail practices use the same principle.

Nowadays, brands like Walmart and Tesco use the “Mediation of reality” model to promote all product niches. For instance, they use influencers, actors and models to showcase their products. You would never see Charli and Dixie D’Amelio endorsing products of a small retail store.

Expansion of Department Store Concept Globally

Nowadays, department stores are everyone’s favorite shopping destination.  The department store retail market is expected to grow till 2022, at a CAGR of 5.2%.  The modern-day department stores pester customers using design elements.

These are better layout planning, improved lighting and innovative brand promotions. The existence of FTAs, trade agreements and globalization help department stores to grow internationally.

Most reputed store chains like Walmart operate in 19 countries. It is not the first department store in 1800s. But it is the first department & grocery store that succeeded on a global scale.

Continued Relevance of Department Stores in Contemporary Retail Landscape

Department stores are our favorites for some invincible reasons. Firstly, store shopping is very convenient. Secondly, we can shop for all our necessities under the same roof. As a result, we can save time. However, there are other benefits too. We can compare attributes of the same product from different brands. Hence, we make more informed choices.


Now you know what was the first department store. After reading this article, you also know how it shaped the modern-day retail landscape. The first store was set up to make people acquainted with innovative products from around the world. But, it also introduced us to other benefits like accessibility and price comparability.

The introduction of department stores during industrialization in the USA also helped the cause. We saw how industrialization helped store retail to appeal to the massive customer base. It created the appeal of lifestyle shopping for the first time. There is no doubt that store retail has changed now. Department stores are a one-stop solution for all our shopping needs. But the idea of creating a multi-product profile was introduced by Bon Marché for the first time.

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Ankita Tripathy loves to write about food and the Hallyu Wave in particular. During her free time, she enjoys looking at the sky or reading books while sipping a cup of hot coffee. Her favourite niches are food, music, lifestyle, travel, and Korean Pop music and drama.

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