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Retail Innovations in American Economic History: The Rise of Mass-Market Merchandisers
The American retail sector is undergoing a long-term structural shift away from small “mom-and-pop” stores and toward national chains. Retail establishments have gotten larger and more concentrated; the mass-market merchandisers of the later twentieth century continued a trend toward consolidation of the retail sector into national chains operating large stores that started before their widespread emergence. In the late twentieth century, Wal-Mart emerged as the world’s most important (and controversial) retailer. The evidence on Wal-Mart’s effects on retail employment suggests either mild positive or mild negative effects, but Wal-Mart’s effect on prices suggests increases in real income.
Retail changed in the twentieth century as small, independent retailers gave way to national chains of massive general merchandise stores.
Retail has surpassed manufacturing as the leading sector in American economic growth, and the transition to a service economy has occurred in spite of the view that the service sector consists largely of low-productivity, low-wage, dead-end “McJobs”.
The retail sector has been transformed: it delivers goods to consumers with a combination of quantity, price, and promptness that would have been unthinkable in the earlier twentieth century.
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