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Reconstructing Consumer Landscapes 1945-1975: Shopper reactions to the supermarket in early post-war England


Research Update

Articles in Journals

Alexander A, Phillips S and Shaw G (forthcoming) “Retail innovation and shopping practices: consumers' reactions to self-service retailing” Environment and Planning A

Hamlett J, Bailey A R, Alexander, A. and Shaw, G (forthcoming) “Ethnicity and Consumption: south Asian food shopping patterns in Britain , 1947-1975” Journal of Consumer Culture

Shaw G, Alexander A, 2006 “Interlocking Directorates and the Knowledge Transfer of Supermarket Retail Techniques from North America to Britain” International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research 16 375-394

Alexander A, Shaw G, Curth L, 2005 “Promoting Retail Innovation: knowledge flows during the emergence of self-service and supermarket retailing in Britain ” Environment and Planning A 37 805-821

Shaw G, Curth L, Alexander A, 2004 “Selling Self-Service and the Supermarket: the Americanisation of food retailing in Britain , 1945-60” Business History 46 568-582

Magazine Publications

Bailey A R and Hamlett J, 2007 ‘Reconstructing Consumer Landscapes: Self-Service Britain ' Local History Magazine Sept/Oct 115 24-26

Nell D, 2007 'Retail Revolution' Ancestors, June 18-19

Hamlett J, 2007 ‘Supermarket Sweep' Best of British January 58-59

Bailey A R, 2007 ‘You Remember the First Supermarkets' Mature Times June 23


BBC Radio Five: Jane Hamlett gave some insights into the restructuring of British food retailing in the 1950s and 1960s - 3 rd September 2006.

BBC Radio Four: Andrew Alexander was interviewed by Jon Mannell regarding the changes to British retailing in the post-war period. The programme was broadcast on 27 th August 2007 and formed part of a week long series exploring the impact of supermarkets on British consumers.

Local Radio: In 2006, you may have heard Adrian Bailey and Jane Hamlett appearing on BBC Radio Devon, Bristol , Gloucester , Suffolk , Humberside.

Conference Papers

Cultural Value of Oral History Conference
(Dr. Dawn Nell, University of Glasgow 27th July 2007)

‘Not applicable': Interviewee responses to research narratives on the rise of the supermarket: comparing surveys and interviews.
The paper reflects on the Arts and Humanities Research Council project ‘Reconstructing Consumer Landscapes’, which utilizes biographical questionnaires and oral histories as part of a multi-methods approach to reconstructing early post-war British retail history c.1945-1975. Consumers draw on a range of narratives when asked to discuss their experiences of shopping during this period, framing their experiences within the context of personalized life narratives and within narratives about broader developments in society. The use of both a survey instrument and semi-structured interviews for the Reconstructing Consumer Landscapes Project leads us to reflect on the relative strengths of these methods. The paper demonstrates the various ways in which the combination of biographical survey and oral history play out in the collaborative venture of reconstructing the past. More specifically, the paper focuses on respondents’ utilization, negotiation, and transgression of various aspects of the survey instrument designed for the AHRC project, from the chronologies that were suggested, to the selected biographical categories. The paper explores instances where respondents have resisted or ignored the narratives implicit in the survey instrument and interview schedule, and reflects on the alternative narratives that interviewees use to contextualize their experiences. The paper considers how respondents configure their experiences, and how they negotiate the framework of survey questionnaires and oral interviews to challenge some of the assumptions about their experiences and motivations that are held by both retailers and historians.

Social History Society Conference
(Dr. Adrian Bailey, University of Exeter, 1st April 2007)

Retail Innovation in Post-war Britain: consumer reactions to self-service technologies.
The state regulation of food shopping c.1940-1954, created the demand for new technologies that articulated producers and consumers more effectively. Over the counter retail techniques were a growing source of consumer dissatisfaction in the early post-war period. Conditions of austerity, manifest in the experience of food and grocery shopping, were tolerated by consumers during wartime, but were met with increasing resentment in subsequent years. Consumer dissatisfaction varied geographically and was felt with greater impact by certain stores where consumer demand was greater. Co-operative Societies, for example, had more customers registered for rationing, on average per store, than multiples or independents. Consumer demands placed upon Co-operative Societies during the early post-war period were a key factor influencing their early adoption of self-service techniques in the UK. Previous research has focused on the governance of retail, exploring the regulatory environment and contemporary reports published by the retail industry. The paper explores consumer perspectives on retailing. First, it seeks to reconstruct the landscapes of consumer dissatisfaction that were generated by over the counter shopping experiences. Second, it seeks to assess how consumers reacted to the introduction of self-service technologies and how these assuaged consumer anxieties about existing methods of retailing.

Royal Geographical Society / Institute of British Geographers
(Dr. Adrian Bailey, RGS/IBG, 30th August 2007)

Emerging Geographies of Consumption: consumer reactions to self service grocery stores c.1955-1975
This paper reports on the initial findings of the AHRC funded project: ‘Reconstructing Consumer Landscapes: consumer reactions to the supermarket in post-war England c.1945-1975’. The project responds to recent calls for more longitudinal studies of how retail developments relate to patterns of consumer behaviour. Using data constructed through a nationwide biographical survey and oral histories, it is possible to go beyond contemporary market surveys that ignore shopping as a socially and culturally embedded practice. Shopper typologies used in the retail management literature, must be contextualized within the locally specific constructions of values associated with food during different stages of life. This paper argues that grocery shopping is a complex activity, which is shaped by the retail encounter and the performative contexts of the home in which vales are assigned to food. It is in the performative spaces of the home that individuals develop sensibilities and tacit knowledge about food, which are then used to discriminate between stores on a whole range of different criteria. Domestic food cultures and shopping patterns encountered in childhood are subsequently reworked and negotiated by individuals through the life-course. These food cultures are accessed by examining the consumer narratives provided by respondents to the AHRC project.

Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution and Association of Business Historians Conference
(Dr. Gareth Shaw and Dr. Andrew Alexander, University of Wolverhampton, 29th June 2007)

The Coming of the Supermarket: the Processes and Consequences of Transplanting American ‘Know How’ into Britain
This paper explores the transfer of self-service and supermarket techniques from America into Britain during the period c1945-1975. It focuses both on the processes of knowledge transfer and on the consequences of the self-service innovation in British food retailing. In terms of the former particular attention will be given to a discussion on the types of knowledge and more especially a detailed analysis of the importance of interlocking directorships in the process of knowledge transfer. The consequences of supermarket development will be examined from both retailer and consumer perspectives. The context of the paper is based around two major research projects, namely the ‘Coming of the Supermarket’ (funded by Leverhulme Trust) and on-going work focusing on consumer responses to self-service methods (funded by AHRC). The latter draws on recently undertaken oral histories and a national consumer survey, which highlights reactions towards self-service along with changing shopping strategies. The paper attempts to draw together both the production and consumption aspects of the transfer of a major retail innovation.




Reconstructing Consumer Landscapes 1945-1975:
Shopper reactions to the supermarket in early post-war
England is sponsored by the
Arts and Humanities Research Council