The supermarket as a global historical development

Structures, capital and values

Authored by: Patrick Hyder Patterson

The Routledge Companion to the History of Retailing

Print publication date:  November  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138675087
eBook ISBN: 9781315560854
Adobe ISBN:


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This essay analyses the history of the supermarket in integrative, global terms. As a model technology, the supermarket has enjoyed prominence as a highly favored form, spurring technological innovations while itself being heavily dependent on supporting technologies. As an extension of modern urbanism, the model reflected key patterns of land use and development in an age of automobiles and mass urban transit. As a structure for enterprise organization and function, the supermarket system pushed grocery retailing towards greater control by large, centralised, professionally managed firms. As an original instrument of capitalist business, the supermarket is routinely, if sometimes questionably, thought to be intrinsically a tool of capitalist ownership and production relations. As a transnational paradigm for development, the supermarket form has become genuinely global, gaining sizeable market share in both advanced economies and developing countries, and undergoing significant local adaptation in the process. As a mirror and engine of culture, the supermarket has channelled the values of a transnational culture of modern retailing rooted in consumer choice. Finally, as an insufficiently studied formative factor in economic, social, business, labour and cultural history, supermarket retailing remains a dominant, resilient model and likely will for the foreseeable future, despite ongoing pressures and threats.

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