Shopping, though a relatively modern phenomenon, has a history and has evolved over the times. In ancient times, there was no concept of money. People took goods that they had produced themselves to barter for other things. Fairs and markets were in operation from early times but few and far between. People would shop for goods at a weekly market in the towns near their homes.
Subsequently, shops began to be permanently established and soon became specialised, e.g. a newsagent, a pharmacy, a greengrocer and so on. Customers would be served by the shopkeeper, who would retrieve all the goods on their list. Eventually the facility of home delivery was added.
Then department stores and supermarkets appeared. The whole array of items on sale emerged from the dark and dingy storerooms and found them being displayed along with shelves full of other merchandise. The customers could now see the choices of products that were available to them, arranged systematically into various departments. Dressing up the display window became an art to lure the customers. Large malls came into the picture which often housed these department stores along with other retail outlets.
Although grand and imposing malls have become a common enough sight in most metropolitan cities, there are many famous malls around the world and each with its own call to fame. The creative brains behind these shopping malls continue to come up with more and more innovative ideas to attract customers. If it’s not a food court serving cuisine from all over the world, then it is a movie theatre, a bowling alley, an aquarium or even an indoor amusement park. As far as department stores are concerned who hasn’t heard of Harrods, Debenhams in the U.K. or Bloomingdale, JC Penney or Wal-Mart in the U.S.A.? Even in India, Reliance and Big Bazar have become big names in the department store business.
The latest trend is shopping on the internet. You can order anything you want from books to fresh flowers and have it delivered to the comfort of your own home. Although this sector caters mainly to the class of consumers that have access to the internet and have a bank account and credit cards etc., it has caught on quite fast as it eradicates the need for going out and dealing with a shopkeeper. A disadvantage of shopping online is that you cannot assess the features of the product as you can’t touch, smell, or try on the product you want to buy.
Shopping is no longer an inconvenient chore and has moved into the domain of leisure. If you are learning a new language, you will probably be learning shopping vocabulary right at the start. This love for shopping has led to the emergence of terms such as ‘window shopping’, ‘retail therapy’, ‘shopaholic’ and even ‘bargaining’.
Shopkeepers will stop at nothing, really, when they want their wares sold. Some are such overenthusiastic salespersons that they don’t even let you get down to asking the price of what you have selected because they are too busy giving you a free tour of the variety available in their shop. I am sure a lot of people can vouch for this when they remember their experiences going shopping for saris etc. Who can point out one vegetable seller who won’t name at least five other vegetables in his stock besides the ones you have already bought and are read to pay for? Even though self-service shops seem to have sprung up everywhere in India, we can still never forget the salesmanship of Indian shopkeepers.
On the other hand, there are some shopkeepers who are so confident of the value of their wares that they leave you to fend for yourself in their shop while they sleepily catch up on the happenings of the day in the newspaper. Some hire assistants, young girls and boys looking for quick money who probably don’t know anything about what they are selling. Then there are the ones who change their prices according to whether you are a local or a foreigner.
Even though everyone might enjoy getting all their shopping delivered to their home, it could never really replace the joy of going in person to the mall to hang out with friends, of trying out all the shoes and dresses available in the shop, or just to catch up on your window shopping. For some it is a form of therapy to drown their blues. For others, it is just a way to bug the shopkeeper. The customer from hell might make the shopkeeper dole out everything he has, criticize it to shreds and then leave without spending a single penny saying that the stuff in the neighbouring shop is much better.