What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“If any one lowers their price, I am determined to do so.”
Joseph Wood advertised a “large and neat assortment” of imported textiles in the January 21, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers throughout the colonies, he made an appeal to price, pledging to sell “as low as any imported into this province.” His competitors in Philadelphia and counterparts in other towns frequently deployed the same language, extending sweeping promises that they did indeed offer the lowest prices that customers would encounter. Wood, however, inserted an innovation intended to increase consumer trust in his claim: price matching. When it came to the same items of the same quality sold by others in the city, “if any one lowers their price, I am determined to do so too.” This flexibility demonstrated to readers that Wood recognized that prospective customers had many choices when it came to acquiring goods and that he was eager to make the necessary accommodations to attract their business in order to avoid losing them to competitors.
In addition to elaborating on some of the standardized language used by advertisers making appeals to price, Wood also enhanced the appeal to quality in his notice. He did not suggest that readers should take him at his word that the textiles he sold “are of the very best kind” or “the finest sort.” Instead, he acknowledged a practice adopted by some underhanded retailers, proclaiming that he did not similarly attempt to deceive his customers. His textiles had not been “high pressed and glazed to deceive the eye.” Their quality would “bear examination.” Inviting prospective customers to test his claims by examining these fabrics for themselves had the additional advantage of getting them through the door. Once they visited his shop at the corner of Market and Second Streets they would more fully appreciate the variety, price, and quality of his merchandise.
Wood combined a list-style advertisement that previewed his “very good assortment of cloths” with a nota bene that incorporated innovations on popular appeals that often relied on formulaic language. He sacrificed space that he might otherwise have devoted to further detailing his inventory in favor of clarifying the usual appeals to address the concerns of skeptical consumers.