June 3

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Jun 3 - 6:3:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 3, 1769).

“He will engage to sell as cheap … as any Person in Providence.”

When he advertised “ European and East-India GOODS” in the Providence Gazette in early June 1769, Thomas Greene resorted to two of the most popular marketing strategies of the eighteenth century: an appeal to consumer choice and an appeal to price.

He did not elaborate much on the choices he made available to prospective customers, but he did promise a “General and compleat Assortment” to anyone who visited his shop “near the Great Bridge.” Other advertisers sometimes provided extensive lists of their inventory, but many settled for “General and compleat Assortment” or some variation as a means of signaling choice to consumers. Elsewhere in the same issue Jonathan Russell promoted a “compleat Assortment,” Clark and Nightingale described a “new and compleat Assortment,” and Thurber and Cahoon hawked a “large and general Assortment” of imported goods. Greene’s choice of “General and compleat Assortment” did not much distinguish his advertisement from others, but it did demonstrate his awareness that customers expected some sort of assurances about choice or else they were unlikely to patronize his shop.

Greene put more effort into distinguishing his low prices from those of his competitors. Each deployed some form of standardized language to make the point to readers. For Russell, it was “the very cheapest Rate,” while Clark and Nightingale opted for “the lowest rate” and Thurber and Cahoon edged them out with “the very lowest Rates.” In contrast to these general statements, Greene made a firmer commitment to win over prospective customers. He pledged “to sell as cheap … as any Person in Providence,” assuring readers that they would not find better deals anywhere else. In effect, Greene offered the eighteenth-century version of a price match guarantee. Prospective customers could do some comparison shopping around town, but in the end Greene vowed that he would match any deals when readers chose to make their purchases from him. In so doing, he stood to increase his share of the market while luring customers away from his competitors.

Greene’s appeal to choice may have been generic, but his appeal to price was not. It was an innovative and crafty way of setting his advertisement apart from others that ran simultaneously in the Providence Gazette.

July 17

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Jul 17 - 7:14:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (July 14, 1768).
“He will sell without Exception, as cheap as can bough at any Shop or Store in Town.”

Consumers in Boston had many choices when it came to shopping in the busy port city in the late 1760s. Numerous merchants and shopkeepers regularly advertised in the several newspapers published in Boston. Many others ran shops without promoting their wares in the public prints. This multitude of retailers presented colonists with opportunities to engage in comparison shopping in order to find the best deals on the merchandise they wished to purchase.

William Gale attempted to streamline the process for readers of the Massachusetts Gazette. When he advertised his “general Assortment of English and India Goods” he made a bold proclamation about his prices. Gale declared that “he will sell without Exception, as cheap as can be bought at any Shop or Store in Town.” The shopkeeper likely did not expect prospective customers merely to accept his claim; he probably expected that most would visit other shops to confirm that he did indeed offer the best deals or, at the very least, competitive prices. Expecting readers to be skeptical, he intended for them to consider his shop and the potential bargains when making their decisions about which retailers to visit.

In addition to promoting low prices, Gale may have also offered price matching for customers who found better values elsewhere. If he wished to honor the promises he made in print then he would have had to lower his prices if shoppers informed him of better deals offered by his competitors. Shopkeepers and customers expected to haggle with each other, so Gale may have anticipated price matching in order to “sell without Exception, as cheap as can be bought at any Shop or Store in Town” as part of the negotiations.

Retailers and other advertisers commonly made appeals to price throughout the eighteenth century. Some simply mentioned low prices, but others, including Gale, made other claims intended to further distinguish their prices from those of others who sold similar merchandise.

January 24

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Jan 24 - 1:21:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (January 21, 1768).

“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.