In “The Ladies’ Paradise” of the XIXth century, Emile Zola envisions a future in which women would make their shopping in huge commercial centers. Up until that point accustomed to a highly personal shopping experience, in which purchases were made based on necessity, rather than desire, and products were tailored for their clients, customers were now encouraged to act compulsively in a shopping centre that was meant to nurture the tendency to buy anything for the sake of buying. Throughout the novel, the author describes the decadence of “old-fashioned” commerce – one that belonged to craftsmen and small producers – which dies under the indifferent eyes of customers lured by the promise of a shopping paradise.

Beyond the pages of the novel, the 20th century materialized this vision in reality and replaced small specialty shops with supermarkets at first, hypermarkets later on and, finally, with malls. Now desire has taken the place of necessity and seduction has become weapon of choice in a battleground created by brands. At this time, customization has shifted from product to message and is leveraged to shape a global commerce market.

Not by far obsolete today, commercial centers are nonetheless facing a declining process of their own, which they owe to what is perhaps the most important disrupter in commerce – Internet, slowly turning brick-and-mortar centers into secondary shopping destinations for customers around the world.

The apparently infinite variety of choice in products and information that the new virtual malls currently provide has once more created a trend towards personalized shopping – however, as compared to the 20th century, the customization process shifted from messages to marketing. In other words, it is no longer enough to deliver the right message to the right audience: it has to be done at precisely the right time, in the right place as well.

Due to our newly-gained ability to know, understand and reach our customers as individuals – at a global scale – a 20th century adman would probably find today’s marketing landscape a paradise. – Cristi MIHAI, Managing Partner, STRATEGAD.