mail order

mail order
   Around 5 percent of Britain’s retail turnover is accounted for by mail order, but the importance of this segment is probably greater than the figures suggest. For though the percentage is currently not increasing, because of competition from high street shops and, more significantly, shopping malls, mail order is very important for those members of the public who are housebound on account of age, disability or family responsibilities, who live in remote areas, or who cannot for some other reason readily go shopping by public or private transport. For certain purchases, mail order also spares shoppers embarrassment or else offers a source of specialized goods not otherwise available. Mail order companies do not operate in expensive high streets or shopping centres but from semi-industrial premises, often in the Midlands or the Northwest where lower staff costs also help offset the costs of administration, packing and post. Serving a large customer base, they are able both to negotiate advantageous prices from manufacturers and wholesalers and to offer a remarkable choice of goods in a wider range of sizes than is available in many shops.
   The basis of mail order is the advertising of goods, either in the press or, more typically, in an illustrated catalogue. The importance of the ‘catalogue agent’, usually a woman raising some extra cash by soliciting orders on the basis of the catalogue for a small commission, has diminished in recent years. Another crucial factor is good twoway communications. Customers, who generally pay when ordering or by credit card, although arrangements can usually also be made for payment by instalments, must be able to place their orders readily by post or, increasingly, telephone. An efficient service for meeting orders without errors and prompt delivery are essential if retailers are to maintain good relations with the public. They cannot survive either without an established reputation for acceptable quality, keen prices and readiness to honour their ‘no quibble’ guarantee to offer exchanges or refunds to dissatisfied purchasers. Computers have simplified the vital task of recordkeeping, and improving quality control by suppliers also makes it easier to give customers the service they demand if they are to go on buying goods without inspecting them in advance of purchase. Alongside the traditional catalogue names such as Littlewoods, Grattan’s and Kay’s, major mail order clothing companies working in the UK are Next Directory, Hawkshead, Racing Green, Land’s End, La Redoute and, in a new move which may lead to market dominance, Marks & Spencer.
   Further reading
    Walsh, N. (1994) The Good Mail Order Guide, London: Macmillan.
   CHRISTOPHER SMITH

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • mail-order — buying mail order buying, mail order mail order . The buying and selling of goods to be shipped from the vendor through the mail to the purchaser. Information about to be purchased may be found in catalogs, advertisements, on the web, etc., and… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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