Who invented the department stores?


The transformation of traditional commerce into modern shopping is due to the French Aristide Boucicaut, who in 1852 opened Au Bon Marché in Paris. A former provincial salesman, he imagined a space with more types of goods, surpassing the specialization of ordinary shops. Prices were fixed and displayed on labels, there were balances, the possibility of return, home delivery and even mail order.

The most loved. The layout of the spaces was very nice and the exposure changed frequently to encourage customers to come in and take a look at all the news.

The visit to the department stores became an activity so loved by the Parisians that they inspired the novel Al paradiso delle signore (1883) by Émile Zola. In the Bon Marché of Boucicaut there were reading rooms for husbands bored by shopping and games for children. In Italy, the first opened in 1877, in Milan.

Image Fashionable customers in the reading room of the department store Au Bon Marché, in Paris in 1900. |

The inventor of the figurines. Aristide Boucicaut was a precursor of modern marketing techniques and it is to him that we owe the figurines. In 1865 Boucicaut had an idea as simple as it was revolutionary. Every Thursday afternoon, the day when the elementary school children did not go to school and the mothers did their shopping with their little children, Boucicaut began to stand near the exit of the department store on rue de Sèvres and, while he greeted the ladies who had just been made purchases in his shop, he gave a figurine to all the children. If they had accompanied their mother on the following Thursday too - he told them - they would have received a new figurine.

Image In the first figurines, of 1865, the shop was simply shown. The mechanism invented by Boucicaut anticipated a marketing technique: affecting the customer with a small gift. |

The first figurines were hand-drawn chromolithographs, with subjects ranging from means of transport to military uniforms, costumed girls and childish themes. On the reverse, a new product or a special offer was advertised under the shop name. In a couple of months Boucicaut realized he had guessed the right strategy: every Thursday the shop was more crowded than usual and the takings were rising. His example was immediately imitated by other department stores that had in the meantime arisen in Paris and the world.