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The Return of the Mail-Order Consumer

Buying products online and having them delivered to our home is one of the more convenient features of living in the age of the internet. Those old enough to remember can recall a time when, in order to get the things we want and need, we had to venture out to malls and department stores and hope the item was in stock. While not exactly the definition of inconvenience, mall shopping and department store hopping took a lot of time out of the day compared to the luxuries of being an e-commerce consumer.


The thing is, the modern way people shop is honestly nothing new. There’s no denying the fact that we didn’t have access to the internet until relatively recently, but the concept of mail-order consumerism is, in fact, something that outdates the age of Amazon Prime and the era in which malls and department stores were the end-all-be-all of successful procurement of the products we want and need. With this in mind, it’s worth noting that the modern trend of having items delivered to us is an experience which was common 100 years ago.


Let’s briefly roll back the clock a century. The year is 1919 and you’re living on the outskirts of a small town miles away from the nearest train station. Automobiles are a luxury technology you don’t have. There might be a general store but they don’t have everything in stock. What do you do if you want or need something you can’t buy when you’re in town? Chances are, you took a look at the Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog. In it, you’d find hundreds if not thousands of items which would be otherwise inaccessible if you only had the general store for shopping.


If you saw something you wanted or needed, you filled out an order form, placed it in an envelope along with a check or money order, and sent it on its way. You’d receive the items you ordered, delivered by mail, in a few weeks.


Again, there’s no disputing the extra advantages of today’s mail-order system. For one, your order probably arrives in a day or two instead of weeks or months. Furthermore, additional technology like a parcel locker for home and apartments and systems for confirming delivery was non-existent to consumers ordering products by mail 100 years ago. Be that as it may, the general concept remains relatively similar. People did not select items for purchase in person, they did so via catalog and waited for them to arrive by mail.


So what changed? What prompted people to stop ordering items by mail and start going to malls and department stores? The answer is simple: technology.


Let’s briefly roll back the clock once again. Only this time it’s 1959. There’s a good chance you’d have access to an automobile. What’s more, a newly developed highway system has linked cities and towns, enabling people to commute to and from the urban cores. Why wait weeks for products ordered by mail when you can drive into the big city, park your automobile, shop in a variety of stores, and go back home all in the same day? The ability to travel swiftly in pursuit of consumerism resulted in the popularity of shopping malls, big-box department stores, and supermarkets. Eventually, mail-order catalogs fell out of fashion. People preferred to do their shopping in person.


This was the status quo for several decades. Then the internet became accessible to the general population. People realized they could buy books, DVDs, shoes, power tools, anything and everything they could ever want by shopping online. Having to fight traffic, walk through the mall, and wait in a line became a set of inconveniences that couldn’t compare to the ease offered by e-commerce. 


The rest, as they say, is history.

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I am the owner of and the Verizon Wireless Reviewer for Ben’s love of gadgets came from his lack of a Nintendo Game Boy when he was a child . Ben vowed from that day on to get his hands on as many tech products as possible. Ben’s approach to a review is to make it informative for the technofile while still making it understandable to everyone. Ben is a new voice in the tech industry and is looking to make a mark wherever he goes. When not reviewing products, Ben is also a 911 Telecommunicator just outside of Pittsburgh PA. Twitter: @gizmoboaks Hangouts: Beavercountyemt Skype: Ben.Oaks

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