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We have the 18th century to thank for the high streets we have in modern times. This was the era were shopping was transformed and became an activity rather than a necessity. We learned how to browse, how to window shop and how to advertise. This is the century where it all began and where modern shop etiquette was born.

England during the 18th century was undergoing quite a bit of renovating. England was becoming wealthier and there were a lot of people moving into the bigger towns and cities to share in the wealth of the Lords that had taken advantage of the developments in the agricultural industry. So, a lot of the larger towns and cities expanded during this time to accommodate the influx of both people and money. As a result of this growth the quaint little market streets transformed. The tiny, rustic little shops moved out and large elegant boutiques and lavish establishments took their place to tempt the wealthy to part with their cash. At the same time as the shops getting bigger, the pavements and roads were rebuilt to be wider to accommodate the people flocking to the shops as well as to give room for wealthy patrons to browse and by without getting splashed by or trodden on by filthy coaches.

 

Because the shopping streets were bigger and there was more competition between shops better advertising became necessary and shop windows where the place to start. Shop owners displayed and decorated their best products in their shop windows to display their craftsmanship and the quality of their wares. Wayfinding signs that we see almost everywhere on a modern high street came into existence around this time, when shop owners did everything they could to lure in customers and keep up with the larger, newer shops. They also tended to advertise in newspapers and announce some of the specific products they had for sale that were particularly valuable.

 

Shopping etiquette of the 1700s dictated that it was always improper to talk about the cost of products, even when you intended to buy them. Customers were responsible for being well versed in the values of products. When they chose what they wanted to purchase they would discuss it with the shop owner who would arrange to have it delivered to the home of the customer and the cost would be paid on account later. Money was never paid upfront and bartering was considered rude and a demonstration of poverty. The choice to deliver the goods to the homes of their customers was a tactical move in behalf of the shop owners. By doing this, their wealthy patrons could buy as much as they wanted without limitations. They didn’t need to carry it or bring a servant with them to cart their luggage, so they were free to buy as much as they wanted and flit from shop to shop. This also meant that it was difficult for them to keep track of how much they were spending, which often resulted in them buying a lot more than they had intended. The modern equivalent to this is probably online shopping, where it’s easy to lose track of how much you’re buying when you don’t have the products in front of you.