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The technologies of price display: mundane retail price governance in the early twentieth century

Journal article
Authors Franck Cochoy
Johan Hagberg
Hans Kjellberg
Published in Economy and Society
Volume 47
Issue 4
Pages 572-606
ISSN 0308-5147
Publication year 2018
Published at Centre for Retailing
Department of Business Administration, Marketing Group
Pages 572-606
Language en
Keywords grocery retailing, market devices, mundane governance, price display, price competition, pricing
Subject categories Business Administration


How is everyday retail pricing practices and devices linked to large-scale, market-wide movements in retail prices? This paper investigates how the development and spread of seemingly insignificant price display technologies in US grocery retailing related to the development of US food prices at large during the interwar years (1918–1939). We find that the development of these new technologies (e.g. preprinted price cards, price tags and price mouldings) afforded new retail pricing practices (e.g. price cutting, specials and bundles). This development both fed off and contributed to the periods of intense price competition that marked the development of US food prices in the studied period. We conclude that price formation mechanisms are historically situated socio-technical phenomena rather than the product of abstract and historically constant market forces. As such, well-working markets hinge on the efforts of a wide range of market actors to continuously test the contextualization of particular price mechanisms and develop alternative solutions to overcome the shortcomings that such reflexive efforts are able to establish.

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