Increasing Value? Modern British Retailing in the Late Twentieth Century
The rise of large-scale retailing represents arguably one of the success stories of British business in the second half of the 20th century. Growing consumer prosperity after the Second World War saw rising demand for an ever widening array of consumer products. To match these changes innovations from the United States were adopted by leading British retailers from the 1950s. A new wave of innovation emerged, this time generated from within, during the ‘Golden Age’ of retailing from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s. Thus, over the period of half a century British retailing had become a leading sector for innovation within British business. As a result by the 1990s the largest retailers were now turning to internationalization as they themselves began to transfer their own technological know-how into new markets. Charting the rise of large-scale retailing this chapter provides a theoretical basis for understanding the dynamic and innovatory nature of retailing. The chapter locates the dynamic nature of large-scale retailing in its economic role as realising the value generated higher up the supply chain. The retailing function should be understood not as creating value in commodities but in ensuring the value generated in the production processes can be released, through consumption. Retailing is an intermediary market function required for value to be realised. The chapter examines this value realisation in more detail through the history of Britain's largest food retailer, Tesco PLC. Food retailers, most notably Tesco, led the process of shifting the balance between hierarchies and markets in retailing. In so doing, dynamic and innovatory relationships emerged which are key to understanding contemporary retailing in the late 20th century.
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