HomeOPINIONHere’s to the old-timers

Here’s to the old-timers

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To research my article on NZ Retail’s 70th anniversary, I visited the archives at Retail NZ’s headquarters in Wellington to, essentially, go fishing for news. What I found really brought home how much, and how little, retail has changed over the years.

Far and away my favourite article from the archive is from the first issue in 1948. In it, staff reporter James Drew makes a joyfully exuberant call for retailers to reference a more local palette in their colour nomenclature. Instead of thoughtlessly accepting boring old descriptors such as “Mediterranean blue” from overseas fabric suppliers, Drew says retailers should look to the New Zealand landscape for inspiration and rename their products’ colourways.

“Personally (and I don’t doubt lots of your customers agree with me), I’d like to see your Bottle Green and Kelly Green and company banished for ever and a day. Instead, can you fault Buller, Nikau, Punga, Maidenhair, Greenstone or Westland? They’re only a start: we haven’t thought of Taranaki yet! Or the Waikato!”

Drew’s sweet article aside, many of the features from older issues of NZ Retail are fascinating glimpses into a past that’s very foreign to modern eyes. A story from 1950 excitedly sharing the magic of escalators made me smile, and a news article in the same issue reporting on a ‘Miss Queen Street’ beauty contest for female shop assistants brought on a full-body cringe. At the same time, that one issue of the magazine also accurately anticipated credit cards; mystery shopping; the rise of shopping centres; late-night shopping and the dominance of television.

Shoplifting has obviously been a major concern for as long as retailers have been tempting shoppers with desirable goods. In 1968, plans to rebrand shoplifting as “a mean sneak type of theft” obviously didn’t manage to penetrate the public consciousness, but 10 years  retailers tried again with a beautifully Kiwi slogan: “Shoplifting is dumb.”

By the 1980s, Eftpos was in place, barcodes were being scanned, computers were on the scene, and the retail industry was starting to more or less resemble its current form. “Cybershopping” entered NZ Retail’s lexicon in the late 90s, as did “the professional woman” as a powerful customer segment, and as they say, the rest is history.

Flicking through firey editorials directed at the government of the day; features about handling difficult staff that could be republished virtually verbatim now; and guidelines explaining how to turn any current event into a sale or promotion have underlined how, while technology has brought in an added layer of convenience and complication, senior retailers aren’t kidding around when they tell us that the fundamentals they learned at the beginning of their careers are every bit as relevant today as they were then.

It’s been a pleasure to steer the good ship NZ Retail to its 70th anniversary. Long may it last.

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