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Merchandising Then and Now – POP Displays from Ancient Times to Modern Day

Modern POP displays – the structures designed to house and exhibit items for sale to potential customers directly at the point of purchase – come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colors and designs of varying levels of sophistication. Retailers can feature new displays every month or season thanks to the affordable and durable range of temporary cardboard displays. In addition to corrugated cardboard, retailers and vendors can also work plastic, wood, steel, special lighting and LED screens into their product display schemes. Point of purchase displays have been around long before such sophisticated technologies as electric cash registers or lightbulbs existed, though. By looking back at ancient times when people sold their wares in outdoor markets, through the 19th and 20th centuries, when modern merchandising arose, and finally to contemporary displays, we can see just how far we’ve come.

The Early Days of POP
The earliest days of commercial business included outdoor markets where merchants would set up stalls to sell items. This process evolved over time into established shops on main streets. In the earliest days of commerce, there wasn’t much competition and most products were necessities, not luxuries. Clothing to keep warm and dry, and food to prepare meals with, were the staple items of most outdoor markets. There was often not any competition, as each merchant would sell one type of food or clothing in each market. Eventually, when more cities had established shops on main streets, it became more common for one merchant to sell multiple items in their stores that they purchased at wholesale prices from local producers and craftsmen. Still, each shop primarily stuck to its specialty, with little competition.
Ancient POP Display

When Branded Displays Arose
Sometime in the 19th century, branded displays became a necessity for business owners throughout western nations. The movement into the Industrial Age saw new technologies and social shifts that enabled more people to go to work, live longer and produce more children. Suddenly merchants found themselves competing with many other merchants selling similar products, on streets filled with all sorts of types of shops, so they had to begin utilizing branded displays to differentiate themselves. This is when barber poles were invented, for example, so customers always knew where to go for a haircut. Florists with signs in the shape of a flower, or shoe-store owners with signs in the shape of a boot, suddenly became commonplace in big cities.

History of Displays - Barber Shop Pole

The Shift to Modern POP Displays
It wasn’t until the 20th century that we really started to see displays similar to what we now commonly find near point of purchase areas. Retailers started utilizing display cabinets with glass casing to organize goods. By the 1950s and ‘60s, things really started to change in the world of POP. Competition was fierce following the boom of industry and home-life sparked by the end of World War II. Retailers and vendors turned to freestanding displays using durable cardboard, eye-catching colors, carefully planned designs and creative uses of space.
Endcap Display

Just like the merchants of bygone ages, you can use point of purchase displays to create endless possibilities. What’s your take on the modern world of POP?

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Posted in Display and Packaging Design, In-Store Display Tactics