A visible element of urban landscapes, particularly in city centers, is the display of products for sale in shop windows. The spatial arrangement and organization of goods and services have been a longstanding subject of consumption research. Studies placed closer to marketing studies tend to focus on assessing the effectiveness of this arrangement in attracting customer interest and promoting sales. However, sociological studies on consumption advance that displaying goods in shop windows is an important part of consumers’ daydreaming and of facilitating imaginative hedonism (Campbell, 1987: 92). Another possible perspective is to consider the arrangement of goods and services in shops, namely food products, as a social practice. That is, addressing how shop managers involved in window dressing carry out these performances in practice (Shove, Pantzar and Watson, 2012), looking at the display of the products in the shop window and inside the shop, understanding shop managers’ meanings and engagements, and considering their competencies, skills, and abilities of shop window dressing and decoration.
In this paper, we focus on the display of food in specialty shop windows and their interiors. In the last decade, there has been an increase in specialty shops selling rural provenance food in urban centers, which reveals the existence and consolidation of rural-urban connections and fluxes of people, products, capital, and knowledge (Silva et al, 2021). The concept of rural provenance food used herein is defined by Figueiredo (2021) as a range of foods produced in rural territories and marketed by specialty stores in urban contexts. It encompasses quality food, often sold at a premium, such as local, organic, traditional, regional, and specialty foods, either certified or not, originating from rural areas within the country. In this sense, shop windows display these foods, functioning as important vehicles for selling not only the product but also the region, the rural landscapes, and symbolic images attached to the place where the product originates. The purpose of this presentation is to explore the various ways of displaying shop windows and their products. What are the objects and other artifacts used for such display? What competencies and skills are solicited? What representations of the rural are exhibited?
This research is based on a broader project’s methodology designed in three phases. The first phase consisted of typifying the urban specialty food shops in three Portuguese cities (Aveiro, Lisbon, and Porto). A universe of 113 shops was analysed and based on these results, 30 stores were randomly selected in a second phase. The data analysed in this paper draws from this phase and includes the analysis of data from the semi-structured interviews conducted with the owners or managers of the 30 specialty stores selected. A thematic analysis of the interviews was carried out according to the following dimensions: meanings and reasons for displaying the products; what were the products displayed; gadgets/artifacts/decorations used; specialized knowledge applied to the window display and the décor of the interior of the shop; rotation/seasonality of product display in the shop window and the interior store; criteria for products’ display, images of the rural that transpired from the display.
The results give evidence of the plurality of ways of showcasing specialty store windows and rural provenance foods. One of the most common examples is the representation of the shop's diversity as a catalog, that exhibits in a small section by the shop window what the customer can find inside the shop. A second form, and almost opposite composition strategy is the exhibition of a smaller diversity of products, which are given greater prominence compared to those inside the shop. There are also other ways of using the shop window that we could frame as the brand shop window or the identity shop window. In these, the featured objects are somehow emblematic of the shop, whether they are products, decorative elements, or even symbols or logos representative of the shop. The same can be said about the use of certain materials and objects that are associated with ideas like "rusticity", "handmade", "rurality", or "elegant simplicity". Another dimension of shop window composition strongly emphasized by the interviewees is the dynamic character of the display, whose updating frequency varies a lot. Seasonality and the celebration of festive days (e.g. Valentine's Day, Carnival, Easter, and Christmas) is the main factor of rotation. In some shops, the displays are sometimes "sold" or contracted out to producers who, for a certain period, can use this increased exposure to complement the tasting activities organized inside the shop. As to competencies, the shop owners make use of professional advice formalized in technical knowledge regarding the organization of the space and the position of the foods, but also use their intuition and past practice experiences, testing solutions of understanding what works best with the material layout available.
4. CONCLUSIONS AND RESEARCH LIMITATIONS
A plethora of ways of organizing shop windows and the interior of the stores was found. Some of these shops portrayed images of the rural and its foods associated with authenticity, handmade, and elegant simplicity. Shop windows of urban specialty stores that display rural provenance foods are important vehicles to communicate rural representations to customers, consolidating rural-urban connections. One limitation is the lack of a systematic collection of shop window photos in a systematic way that could contribute to triangulating the data collected through the interviews.
This contribution is original and was not present elsewhere.
Silva, A.; Figueiredo, E.; Truninger, M.; Eusébio, C. and Forte, T. (2021). A typology of urban specialty shops selling rural provenance food products – a contribution from Portugal. British Food Journal, 123(12): 3902-3917. https://doi.org/10.1108/BFJ-11-2020-1045
Figueiredo, E. (2021) Rural Provenance Food as Cultural Heritage - a way of promoting rural attractiveness and development?”. In Handbook of Research on Cultural Heritage and Its Impact on Territory Innovation and Development; Oliveira, L.; Amaro, A.C.; Melro, A. Eds, Hershey: IGI Global,114-137.
Campbell, C. (1987), The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Shove, E., Pantzar, M., and Watson, M. (2012), The Dynamics of Social Practices: Everyday Life and How it Changes, London: Sage.