Inspired by a conversation with my mother
As we move forward in all the uncertainty, there is a great fear among the masses. Perhaps, it’s the middle to senior aged, since they can remember walking into a store to purchase an item. The younger generations have grown up in the online age and don’t need to acclimate.
“I’m too old to order something without trying it on first.”
Rest assured that as online access grows and the brick and mortar shopping experience dwindles, there is a connective tissue that ties this online shopping transition to the past. Like an old friend who shows up on your doorstep with a new haircut. The discomfort of not knowing is eased by a familiarity that exists, it just has to be sought out and brought into the light.
In 1872, Aaron Montgomery Ward produced the first mail order catalog geared to the general public. This was followed by other large names such as Hammacher Schlemmer and eventually, what might be the most famous one of all time, the Sears & Roebuck catalog. From JC Penney to Victoria Secret, long before home computing and the internet, mail order catalogs flourished. Companies like car parts giant JC Whitney made its mark on the world from between the pages of mail order catalogs.
Why did this surge in mail order catalogs grow into a multi-million-dollar business? Simple economics of supply and demand. People wanted to shop and most of them didn’t have cars. Getting down town or to a major city, to the brick and mortars, was too difficult or too time consuming. The telephone at that time made it simple to order items directly from the catalogs.
The world then saw the advent of the home computer and it was a game changer. In 1995, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s guru, opened for business. He may have been the first to see the potential online scalability of the mail order catalog. Today Jeff has taken the internet catalog well beyond its mail order predecessor, threatening the mere existence of some brick and mortar establishments.
Let’s move forward to 2020. We are all now quarantined at home and travel to the brick and mortars is not an option. The online catalog industry already has its foothold. Demand for home delivery has found its worth in a new way. Yes, there is the option to order online and drive to a store to pick up the item, but fear has gone viral. We’re in lock down and the only way to shop safely is via the internet catalog. The term “internet catalog” does not sound common, but a look at the myriad of shopping websites where you can buy just about anything looks a great deal like a digital version of a Sears and Roebuck catalog. Everything you could ever want is in one place.
“I never thought I would have to do this in my lifetime.”
For all who are fighting the online catalog shopping reality, it might sit on your pallet a bit easier if you make the correlation that as child you may have watched your parents or grandparents place orders from mail order catalogs. If you’re old enough, you may have placed a phone order from a mail order catalog yourself. A feeling of nostalgia could replace the angst you feel about having to shop online. Truth is that making purchases via an online catalog, takes less effort than the mail order catalogs ever did. One more fact that might help take the edge off of online catalog shopping is that while mail order catalog items took weeks to show up, today most online orders are on your doorstep in seven days or less.
As the new world might bring many fears with it, shopping doesn’t have to be one of them. This time looking to the past can ease the transition to the future. It’s like riding a bicycle. You never forget, you just need to practice a bit in the beginning. By the way, you can buy a bicycle online too.
For more on the history of mail order catalogs visit
3. History of Amazon https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/amazon-opens-for-business