What was the benefit of “catalog stores”?


I frequently drive past a retail site from my childhood that was once a store called “Service Merchandise”. It had an odd concept where every item was on display and you pulled a tag (like how you bought a video game at Toys R Us back in the 1980s and 1990s). You would take this tag to the register, pay, and then go stand at a conveyer belt where your items came out (like getting luggage at the airport if memory serves). What was the perceived benefit of organizing a store this way? Were there other “catalog stores” (a term my mother uses to refer to Service Merchandise when I ask about it) or was this unique to Service Merchandise?

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It cuts down on theft and it can be convenient if your store sells large items that the customer might not want to lug around while shopping. The only other store that I can think of that works similarly to this is IKEA, and for a furniture store, not having to carry stuff around the store is a big plus.

My wife was a Jeopardy contestant in 1989. One of her parting gifts was a $750 gift certificate to Service Merchandise. We had fun going through the catalog and spending that $750 down to the penny.

I feel this is what todays CVS/Walgreens are with no items available on the shelves or locked up

I remember one called Best Catalog I think…

I was under the impression that they got around retail price setting by the manufacturers by pretending to sell it wholesale.

B&H Photo still somewhat does it. Helps with loss prevention/inventory control and can allow you to sell a wider variety of items.