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Why is Historical Research Important in Marketing?


A couple of years ago I was invited by a good friend of mine to contribute to an inaugural special issue of a journal. Professor Kazuo Usui (Saitama Gakuen University), a frequent visitor to Stirling and Edinburgh (where he is an Honorary Professor) was putting together a special issue for a new journal – the Japan Marketing History Review, supported by the Marketing History Society of Japan.

It was one of those invitations; you feel honoured but not a little apprehensive given the topic (Why is historical research important in marketing?) and also the calibre of those being approached. Then the pandemic hit, deadlines slipped, other things took over and visits between Japan and Scotland were halted. Eventually though the project got back on track and I (we) put together an article which we were very pleased to have accepted.

In April 2022 the issue has finally been published and as this is an open-access journal, all the papers are available to download. Our paper – more on this later – can be downloaded from this blog, as can the full list of the issue contents from here.

The contents list makes for interesting reading with the issue having brought together some serious scholars of marketing and retailing history (whereas I dabble in it). It is a privilege to be in the same collection as Kotler, Keep, Fuat Firat, Witkowski and Belk amongst others from the USA, as well as leading Japanese and European scholars on a range of historical topics in marketing and retailing. As can be seen from the contents there are four specifically retail papers which caught my eye, and I am looking forward to reading.

Our paper (Maria Rybaczewska and myself) entitled “Twenty-one years of going shopping” considers the difficulty of placing the consumer voice in the business, corporate, marketing and retailing history space. The paper takes a serendipitous donation of a long-run (1977-1999) series of shopping diaries, reporting one individual’s every shopping trip and retail purchase over this period. This is an unique (as far as we know but happy to be correcgted and to accept further such donations to the University) but authentic data record of “everyday shopping” in a period in the UK marked by rapid retail (and social) change. We have much more to do to analyse the diaries, but this paper hints at the gaps in our knowledge, the potential, and the difficulties. You can make up your own minds about the value of such a source and future analyses.

More importantly though the other papers collectively make a fine edition and address in novel and interesting ways the question posed in the title of this post. Historical research is interesting, fascinating and informative for marketing and for retailing, as these authors and papers demonstrate.

If you are at all interested in this broad area, you should check out the website hosting the papers in the special issue.

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland’s Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students.


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