Jessica Mann

The Retail Revolution

English Shops and Shopping


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The Shops


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KATHRYN MORRISON SAYS her book is meant for those who enjoy shopping but she refrains from specifying who such people are likely to be, and perhaps it would be mistaken as well as sexist for me to suggest that her target audience was predominantly female. Inda Knight has no inhibitions about that (or much else) and in her efision on shopping firmly remarks that ‘Men are traditionally supposed to be hopeless at it: grumpy and monosyllabic when lured down the High Street, wishing they were at home browsing the web for gadgets instead.’ Those who browse and buy online know that Internet shopping is not at all the same thing as ‘shop-gazing’ or ‘going out shopping’, which does not necessarily imply any intention to spend money and is not always acquisitive. Many of us go round the shops as a form of socialising, with the added bonus of a museum-style sensation of ‘just looking’, and it’s an excuse to get out of the house. I would have thought that this traditional occupation had been a normal part of life since the earliest days of stalls, shambles and markets. But no; Morrison writes that shopping as a leisure pursuit was only born in the eighteenth century, when shopfronts were first glazed, a technological change as revolutionary in its effect on shop design as, much later, lifts and escalators would be. Her account of successive innovations shows how the individual premises of specialist traders were succeeded by department stores, cooperatives which supplied every need from cradle to grave, chain stores and shopping malls, while the introduction of self-service led on to the much criticised supermarket revolution.

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