What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“There may also be had at the same place … a great variety of millinery, made up in the newest and genteelest taste, by a person lately from London.”
Joseph Wood sold a variety of textiles, apparel, and millinery goods at his shop on the corner of Market and Second Streets in Philadelphia. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he published an extensive list of his wares to entice prospective customers. According to his advertisement in the December 15, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he stocked everything from “scarlet and other serges” and “fine and coarse broadcloths, of all colours” to “mens and womens beaver and other gloves” and “mens and womens cotton and worsted hose” to “gold and silver basket buttons” and “newest fashioned gold and silver trimmings for gentlemen and ladies hats.”
Wood did not rely on this impressive assortment of merchandise alone to attract customers. Instead, he provided an additional service: a milliner on site. “There may also be had at the same place,” Wood proclaimed, “a great variety of millinery, made up in the newest and genteelest taste, by a person lately from London, who understands perfectly every branch of that business.” Whether the unnamed milliner was an employee or a tenant was not clear, but that mattered far less than the service available at Wood’s shop. In addition to acquiring materials, customers could also receive advice about “the newest and genteelest taste” in London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, and even have their hats and other accessories made by a skilled milliner who was familiar with the most recent trends by virtue of having resided there until quite recently. Furthermore, prospective customers did not need to fret about the costs. Wood assured them that “they may depend upon being served on the most reasonable terms, and as cheap as in London.” He promised the same sophistication without inflated prices. Wood played on the anxieties and desires of residents of Philadelphia eager to demonstrate that they were fashionable and genteel despite their distance from London.
Other merchants and shopkeepers made appeals to price and fashion in their advertisements. They also emphasized consumer choice with their own lengthy lists of merchandise. Wood, however, adopted a business model and marketing strategy that distinguished his shop from the competition. He realized that more readers were likely to become customers if he did more than just sell goods but instead provided services that enhanced the shopping experience.