Mail order, from Tim Shaw to Amazon


Some people say that eCommerce is an entirely unprecedented phenomenon. But is it really?


Old Taskmaster can recall that once upon a time, a very long time ago (otherwise known as the late 1980s), a mail order steak-knife supremo forever put the phrase “with a free set of steak knives” into our national lexicon:


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Of course, Tim Shaw was far from a pioneer of the concept of mail order. In the United States, mail order catalogues from the likes of Sears Roebuck and Aaron Montgomery Ward began appearing in households from the late 19th Century onwards.


Now, think about your favourite online retailer.


The chances are the biggest difference between them and the mail order catalogues or television infomercial companies of old is the manner in which customers submit their orders.


The whole business model of many eCommerce sites looks an awful lot like the old mail order business: Collect orders, fulfil them at a warehouse, then post them out to consumers.


Instead of staff in a call centre answering phones or counting the coupons, orders are placed in a more convenient medium, such as the web, a social network or a mobile device. Yet the order fulfilment and the back ends look an awful lot like mail order operations of the days of yore.


Omni-channel retailing? Until the emergence of “supercentre” retailers like Walmart through the 1970s and 1980s, the old catalogue mail order companies were also the largest bricks-and-mortar department store chains in the US.


And since the first catalogue was sent, the basic common sense rules have remained the same. Consumers will pay a premium to go shopping in person if the opportunity presents value to them – they always have. They will shop through mail order for convenience, especially if no value is added in store.


If you’re looking at getting into the retail industry, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Instead, do some research and look back through over a century of business models that have been tried both in-store and through the post.


And whether it’s brick-and-mortar or online, always make sure your retail experience brings value to your consumers. Even if it means throwing in a second set of steak knives free.


Get it done – today!