The stores as we know them today were started by a Parisian entrepreneur during Belle Époque, that is the period before the first World war.
The transformation of traditional trade into modern shopping is due to the Frenchman Aristide Boucicaut, who in 1852 opened Au Bon Marché in Paris. Former provincial salesman, he imagined a space with more than one type of goods, overtaking the specialization of ordinary stores. The prices were fixed and displayed on labels, there were balances, the possibility of delivery, home delivery and also the purchase by mail. They used horse carriages for home delivery, the carriages were marked with the name of the store thus promoting its services.
THE MOST LOVED. The layout of the spaces was very cautious and the order changed frequently to push the customers to come in and take a look at all the novelties.
The visit to the department stores became an activity so loved by the Parisians that it even inspired a novel At the heaven of ladies (1883) by Émile Zola. In the Bon Marché of Boucicaut there were reading rooms for husbands bored from shopping and playing games for children. In Italy, for example the first shop opened in 1877, in Milan.
THE FIGURINE INVENTOR. Aristide Boucicaut has been a forerunner of modern marketing techniques and it is because of him that we have the figurines. In 1865 Boucicaut had an idea as simple as revolutionary. Every Thursday afternoon, when the elementary children did not go to school and the mothers went shopping with their little ones, Boucicaut began to get close to the department store’s exit in Rue de Sèvres, and while greeting the ladies who had just bought in his shop, gave a figurine to all the kids. If they accompanied their mom, the next Thursday, he said, they would receive a new figurine.
In the first figurines of 1865, he simply displayed the store. The mechanism invented by Boucicaut anticipated a marketing technique: to affix the customer with a small gift.
The first figurines were hand-drawn images, with subjects ranging from means of transport to military uniforms, costume girls and children themes. On the reverse side, under the name of the shop, he advertised a new product or a particular offer. In a couple of months Boucicaut realized that he had come up with the right strategy: on Thursdays the shop was more crowded than usual and receipts grew. His example was immediately imitated by other department stores that in the meantime had arisen in Paris and in the world.