The History of Consumer Purchasing [Infographic]

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Times change, trends change, but one thing that stays the same is that people continue to buy. But while most marketers have focused on “what” people purchased over the years, it’s just as important to understand the “why” behind the buy. Of course, it’s cool to know which products have been hot in different eras, but what matters more are the messages, motives, and media that influenced those choices. To see how purchasing decisions have evolved over the last 100 years, check out this new infographic posted on HubSpot. It features highlights from purchasing history, such as how people learned about what’s new, where they shopped, and why they spent.


1901 to 1920

  • Print advertising dominated and directed retail sales
  • Mail-order simplified shopping, with catalogs from Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward giving consumers access to all kinds of products

1921 to 1935

  • Radio completely changed advertising, with radio shows featuring commercial breaks for brands to promote products
  • $1,512 was the average annual expenditure for an American family in 1934

1935 to 1950

  • Overall ad spending increased during World War II, from $2.1 billion in 1941 to $2.8 billion by 1945
  • Radio ad revenue exceeded print advertising revenue for the first time in history

1950 to 1965

  • The creation of television caused TV advertising to soar
  • The debut of The Diner’s Card in 1949 allowed consumers to dine out without cash and ushered in the age of credit card spending

1965 to 1975

  • Spending soared due to the mid-1960s boom in economic prosperity, disposable income, and leisure time
  • Ads had to meet higher standards of integrity due to America’s skepticism about the advertising industry

1975 to 1985

  • Around 1,600 ads per day were displayed to the average American through all forms of media
  • The first promotional spam email was sent in 1978, just one year after the invention of computers

1985 to 1995

  • Online shopping began and boomed through Amazon and eBay
  • A 44% click-through rate was achieved by the first Web banner ad from Hotwired, which introduced Internet advertising in 1994

1995 to Today

  • Total online advertising spending reached $300 million in the mid-1990s and more than tripled by 2000
  • 73% of consumers claim that positive online reviews make them trust a business more, which is all due to the launch of Yelp in 2005
  • Facebook debuted ad targeting features to marketers in 2009

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Infographic by HubSpot.

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