A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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A. How many people shop

To appreciate fully the impact that shop closing legislation may have on the public, it is desirable to know with some accuracy what sections of the population are concerned with shopping. Certainly a survey was not needed to indicate that shopping was primarily the woman’s responsibility; nevertheless no accurate information was hitherto available on the extent to which men also undertook shopping commitments. Informants were asked “Do you do the household shopping, help with it, or do you only do your own personal shopping?”, the results of this question yields a simple analysis of public shopping commitments and indicates the size of the shopping public.

Table 1 - Types and total numbers of shoppers

Type of Shopper Total
Mainly responsible for household shopping 47 4 76
Helps with the household shopping 19 29 12
Only personal shopping 31 62 10
Total doing some shopping 97 95 98
No shopping at all 3 5 2
Whole sample: (100%) 2007 816 1191

Certain inferences are quite clear. Shopping is an activity common to the vast majority of the community. 97% of people do some form of shopping or other, and the percentage of non-shoppers is a small one. Not only the vast majority of women but also the vast majority of men shop. The main burden of household shopping is borne by women, 76% of whom are mainly responsible for the household shopping, (main shoppers). The percentage of main shoppers among men is a very small one (4%), it may well provide an approximate indication of the number of men who have to fend for themselves and do not live in a family. Men’s shopping activity is mainly restricted to personal shopping, 62% do only personal shopping as against 29% who help with the household shopping. This framework of shopping commitments appears to have been fairly settled in recent years.

In a study of shopping problems occupational differences are as important if not more important than sex differences. Hence in table 2 a simple occupational breakdown of shoppers is undertaken.

Table 2 - Occupational Analysis of shoppers

Type of shopper Occupation of shopper
Retired and unoccupied
Distributive workers
All other workers
Mainly responsible for household shopping 95 17 19 15
Helps with household shopping 3 31 31 27
Only personal shopping 1 33 50 55
Total doing any shopping 99 81 100 97
No shopping at all 1 19 0 3
Whole Sample(100%) 792 191 156 868

This analysis yielded not unexpected results. It confirmed the established facts that the most active shoppers are to be found among the full-time housewives. Indeed the percentage of housewives who are either prepared,

or are obliged by old age to delegate the main shopping responsibility to another member of the household is very small indeed. A more interesting finding showed that 97% of the working population did some form of shopping, though the majority of it was of a personal character. The only large group of non-shoppers was found among “the retired and unoccupied group”. This is probably the result of the old age of this section of the population and of its poor economic condition; some of the large number of social pensioners among them probably were unable to afford to do much shopping.

A special analysis of the shopping of the community's working women was undertaken, in order that the experience of the working was not masked by the much more numerous body of working men in the sample.

Table 3 - Shopping commitment of working women

Type of shopper Working Women
Mainly responsible for the household shopping 45
Helps with the household shopping 26
Only personal shopping 29
No shopping at all -
All working at all 332

Clearly the working woman presents a special problem. Although she is not as actively engaged in shopping as the full-time housewife, her commitments are considerable. Nearly half the working women are mainly responsible for their household shopping and must presumably cope with shopping activities in addition to their work. Shop closing problems are likely to be of especial concern to them.

An economic analysis of shoppers was carried out but is not reproduced here as the results were not very revealing. Differences in shopping commitments are not very marked in the various economic groups. In the lowest economic group, where the wage rate of the chief wage earner was under ₤3 a week, a notable proportion (11%) did no shopping at all: this figure is doubtless influenced by the large number of old age pensioners in that group.


Whilst the main responsibility for the household shopping was the woman’s and in particular the housewife’s, the fact that 95% of men undertook some form of shopping activity or other, showed that in any analysis of shopping problems men’s opinions had to be given due weight. Most groups in society were active shoppers. The highest percentages “who do no shopping at all” were found among the retired and unoccupied group who included many old people, and among the lowest economic groups who could not afford to shop so readily. A special problem was that of the working woman. Nearly half the working women were mainly responsible for their household shopping and had to cope with this activity in addition to their work.

B. What shopping centres do people visit?

Information on shopping areas frequented was sought under four heading; the local shopping centre, the main shopping centre, the central shopping centre and the additional shopping centre. Definitions of these four will be found in the interviewers instructions. Experience showed that the definition of an additional shopping centre was rather rigid and that many visits to centres that were within 1 hour’s travelling time from the home could legitimately be counted in under that head. The resulting pattern of shopping centres would vary by urban or rural areas.

Large Cities

Local Shopping Centre e.g., shop round the corner

Main Shopping Centre e.g., Suburban centre

Central Shopping Centre e.g., West End

Rural Areas

Local Shopping Centre e.g., Village shops

Main Shopping Centre e.g., Nearby market town

Additional Shopping Centre e.g., Accessible large town

Table 4 answers the question ‘How often do you go to your Local/Main etc, shopping centre.’

Table 4 - Types of Shopping Centre Visited

Type of Centre
Use of Centre Local
Uses 81 84 57 41
Does not use 19 16 43 59
Total shoppers with center(100%) 1488 1864 749 1221
Total with centre 77 96 39 63
Total without centre 23 4 61 37
Total Shoppers(100%) 1939 1939 1939 1939

The percentage having or not having a particular type of centre tend to follow from the definitions that have already been laid down. Main shopping centres are available to the great majority of shoppers; whereas it is only the populations of a larger towns (39%) that have central shopping centres available. For the rest of this subsection however a different type of treatment will be followed; discussion will centre around those informants who have a certain centre available. In this connection it is the main shopping centre that has the highest percentage of users (84%) though the local shopping centres is much frequented. Central and additional centres, as well as being less available to the population are also not in such general use. It will be seen, in due course, that that fact is related to the distance and therefore the trouble and cost involved in reaching them.

An occupational analysis of these results was made. Although it showed that housewives were overall the most active shoppers, workers and particularly distributive workers made proportionately the greater use of Central shopping Centres. A visit to the Central Shopping Centre involves the housewife in a journey, whereas many women are involved in distributive and ordinary work in the middle of cities and are not affected by this consideration.

The results were also analysed by economic groupings. It was confirmed that shoppers’ economic status does not greatly influence the tendency to visit local or main shopping centres but that visits to central or additional centres do vary with the economic status of the informant. The proportion of non users for these two centres is highest in the lower economic groups and may be due to two causes. Travel to these two is more costly than to neighbouring shopping areas. The type taken at central and additional centres may be of a “capital” rather than of an every day type and is therefore more costly. Its analysis was too detailed and not sufficiently informative to merit reproduction.

Table 5 - Frequency of visits to different types of Centres

Number of Visit Types of Centre
Every day 32 18 4 0
2-3 times a week 29 26 8 2
Once a week 14 22 13 6
Less than once a week 6 17 30 30
No answer 0 1 3 3
Does not visit 19 16 42 59
Number of shoppers with centres available (100%) 1488 1846 749 1221

A special analysis of the visits to shopping centres by working women indicated that more than 40% of that group visited local and main shopping centres more than once a week. Clearly this is a heavy commitment to undertake in addition to being in full-time employment.

Table 6 - Frequency of visits to main shopping centres

Number of visit Urban Areas
Rural Areas
Every day 22 4
2-3 times per week 26 22
Under once a week 15 28
Once a week 21 28
No answer 0 1
Total shoppers with centres available (100%) 1505 359

This table throws further light on the influence of travel on shopping habits. Whilst an equal proportion of rural and urban shoppers visit main shopping centres some time in the week the urban shoppers go much more frequently.


Not all shoppers have every type of shopping centre available in their neighbourhood. For those that have particular types of centres at hand 80% use their local and main shopping centres, while nearly 60% of towns folks go to their Central Shopping Centres. Most shoppers tend to pay more than one visit a week to main and local shopping centres. Working women are active callers at all centres and considerable numbers pay more than one visit a week to local or main shopping centres.

C. Time taken to reach shopping centres from Home

Table 7 - Time taken to reach Shopping Centres

Time taken Type of Centre
Main Central Additional
Up to 12 mins. 87 41 12 2
13 - 24 mins 9 34 35 7
25 -36 mins 2 16 26 6
37 - 48 mins 1 6 11 12
49 - 60 mins - 1 4 23
1 -2 hrs. - - 3 36
Over 2 hrs. - - - 3
Can’t say. 1 2 11 11
Total Shoppers using centre (100%) 1203 1568 429 502
Median time 7 mins. 18 mins 24 mins 57 mins

The local shopping centre as suggested in the definition does indeed consist of the shops around the corner, and for 87% of users is within 12 mins. distance from home. Median travelling time is 7 mins. The main shopping centre, however, which it has already been pointed out is the most frequented of all centres involves a longer journey and has a median travelling time of 18 mins. Compared with the main shopping centre, the time taken to reach the Central Shopping Centre is scarcely a longer one, the time being 24 mins.

Additional centres are however very much more remote and the median travelling time to these is considerably longer being 57 mins, which means that the picture presented so far does not fully indicate the relative proximity of those returning from work and this tends to cut down travelling time. Moreover further analyses showed the differences in travelling time taken to various types of shopping centres by urban and rural shoppers.

Median time taken to reach shopping centres


Type of Centre Type of Area
Urban Rural
Local 7 mins. 7 mins.
Main 13 mins. 22 mins.
Central 23 mins -
Additional 58 mins. 57 mins.

The time taken to reach local shopping centres does not differ greatly in town or country. Although the isolated country cottage was not covered on the survey, it appears to be the case that all villages have an easily accessible local centre of even a few shops.

The travelling time required to get to these centres, suggests which are the important centres from the point of view of shop closing.

Clearly it is the two accessible centres, the local and the main. The other two centres seem to require special journeys anyway, and are not the sort of places that workers will call into on their way home from work. It is just those centres that are within easy travelling time of home that shoppers are likely to want to visit after their working hours.


Half the local shopping centres are within 7 mins. travelling time of shoppers’ homes, half the main shopping centres within 18 mins., half the Central Shopping Centres within 24 mins. and half the Additional Centres within 57 mins. Closing hours appear to be of most concern in the case of the local and main Shopping Centres.

D. What commodities do people buy and how ofter?

The nature and general expense of a commodity has been advanced as a contributory factor to the frequency of individual visits to different shopping centres particularly to central shopping centres. This sub-section then considers shopping commitments in terms of commodities. Informants were asked “Do you use shops selling any of these types of goods?”. I It was found in a special analysis that the commodity groupings chosen were comprehensive; only 21 out of a maximum of 1939 shoppers undertook some form of shopping that was not covered by the main groups. Table 21 shows to what extent these shops are used.

Table 9 - Use of Shops Selling Different Types of Commodities

Use of Shop Type of Commodity
Clothing Drapery
Furniture Ironmongery Tool etc.
Books Stationery
Uses 69 93 34 73 73
Does not use 31 7 66 27 27
Total (100%) 1939 1939 1939 1939 1939

The majority of shoppers tend to visit each commodity shop except in the case of furniture. The furniture figure is of course influenced by the infrequent demand for that commodity and therefore indirectly by the cost of furniture purchases. An economic analysis showed that the percentage using a type of shop increased with the economic group of the informant. This tendency was particularly marked in the case of furniture, but was not apparent with a necessity such as food.

Table 10 - Use of Shops Selling Different Types of Commodities Analysed according to Occupation

Occupation of Shopper Use of Shop Type of Commodity
Housewives Use 99 98 48 86 78
Do not use 1 2 52 14 22
Total (100%) 785 785 785 785 785
Retired and Unoccupied Use 69 72 12 54 66
Do not use 31 28 88 46 34
Total (100%) 155 155 155 155 155
All distributive workers Use 52 96 27 59 75
Do not use 48 4 73 41 25
Total (100%) 155 155 155 155 155
All other workers Use 45 91 26 67 70
Do not use 55 9 74 33 30
Total (100%) 844 844 844 844 844

An occupation analysis confirms that though the housewife is the most important shopper, 91% of workers use clothing shops, while 45% visit food-shops and 67% shops selling ironmongery etc. - some workers thereby performing shopping of a household character. A special study of the interests of working women revealed that 73% visited food shops and 98% shops selling clothes.

The question “how often do you go there?” was put to informants who used the various types of shop. The question in this form applies to visits rather than purchases. Thus the influence of a certain amount of aimless shop walking must be allowed for, as well as the fact that more than one exploratory visit may be customary before the purchase of some relatively expensive article.

Table 11 - Frequency of Visits to Shops Selling Different Types of Commodities

Commodity Frequency of Visits Numbers using these shops (100%)
Every day
2-3 per week
Once a week
Under once a week
No answer
Food 43 37 16 3 1 1344
Clothing etc. 1 6 18 74 1 1800
Furniture 0 2 6 91 1 663
Ironmongery etc. 0 8 24 67 1 1418
Books etc. 13 14 33 39 1 1423

Food shops are visited daily by a higher proportion, whereas the bulk of visits to clothes and furniture shops were at the rate of under one a week. A sex analysis of clothes visits showed that there was probably a small group of seasoned window shoppers among female shoppers. The generally high calling rate for books is influenced by calls for periodicals and newspapers in shops and by visits to shop libraries. The fact that male shoppers are the more active visitors in this latter group suggests a proportion of calls to and from work; these shoppers may well have an active interest in closing hours.


Most of the main commodity groups are visited by high percentages of shoppers; the exception in furniture where only a minority of 34% pay any calls. Visits to furniture shops seem to be affected by the economic status of the informant. The most frequent calls are to food or bookshops.

E. When do people do their shopping

The attitude of people to shop closing will largely be moulded by experience; the experience that counts is the time at which they shop, and the convenience of such a shopping time. Since it seemed as if there might be differences in the habits for buying different goods, a separate analysis was carried out for the users of each group of commodities. The question was put in the simple form “What time do you usually call?”.

Table 12 - Analysis of Shopping Times According to type of Commodity

Commodity Time of Shopping Number using those shops (100%)
Before 10 a.m
10.1 - 12
2.1 -5
After 7 p.m.
No answer
Food 19 29 7 14 5 2 - 23 1 1344
Clothing etc. 2 11 4 47 4 0 - 32 0 1800
Furniture 2 10 3 45 4 0 - 35 1 663
Ironmongery etc. 3 16 5 38 3 1 - 33 0 1418
Books etc. 14 14 5 31 5 2 - 28 1 1423

There is a large body of shoppers who vary their time of call for all commodities and would appear to have no hard and fast shopping habits. When definite times are specified there are some marked commodity differences. Thus food calls are primarily paid in the mornings, 19% before 10 a.m. and 29% between 10.1 and 12 a.m. Morning calls are far scarcer in the clothing, ironmongery, furniture groups. The books and stationery group, however, reveal a substantial percentage of pre 10 a.m. calls (14%); this figure is doubtless influenced by special calls for periodicals and newspapers at shops. Exclusively lunch-hour calls are not as intensive as one would expect offhand. Food (7%) is the commodity with the highest percentage of lunch-hour calls. But lunch-hour calls might well be more frequent, if and when more shops remain open in the lunch-hour. For all commodities other than food the greatest frequency of calls is in the 2 - 5 p.m. period. A small number of calls are paid between 5.1 and 6 p.m., the number of calls after that time are negligible.

To emphasise the differences that clearly exist in the habits of different occupational strata of the population, two commodity groups were studied under occupational headings: the food group, which is a special case and the clothing group which may also be considered as representative of the other commodities.

Table 13 - Analysis of times of call at food and clothing shops according to occupation of shopper

Type of shop Occupation of shopper Time of call Number of Shoppers (100%)
Before 10 a.m.
10.1-12 12.1 -2
5.1 -6 6.1-7
After 7 p.m.
Food Housewives 26 38 2 14 1 0 0 19 778
Retired and unoccupied 11 53 2 10 1 0 0 23 107
Distributive workers 11 10 21 10 10 5 0 33 81
Other workers 9 10 16 18 15 3 1 28 378
Clothing Housewives 2 15 1 48 2 0 0 32 771
Retired and Unoccupied 3 25 2 27 1 0 0 42 111
Distributive workers 3 5 15 38 3 1 0 35 149
Other workers 2 5 6 50 7 1 0 29 769

The results are interesting and reinforce some of the conclusions already drawn. The full-time housewife tends to make her food purchases in the morning, while workers buying food record the highest percentage of afternoon calls for that group. Lunch hour calls at food shops are made mainly by Distributive workers and also by other workers. The high percentage of lunch-hour calls by Distributive workers is not surprising. They work in the shopping centres and find the lunch-hour their best opportunity for shopping. The clothes shopping pattern shows the difference in the habits of workers and non- workers even more closely. Thus housewives and the retired and unoccupied pay some calls in the mornings, workers who are occupied at this time, very few. Distributive workers are once again the most active lunch hour shoppers. However all groups find 2.1 - 5 p.m. period the principal time of call.

It is interesting that even for workers the 2.1 - 5 p.m. period is most used for shopping. This is evidence of the important part that Saturday afternoon shopping plays for the working population.


Food purchases are mainly undertaken in the morning, other purchases in the afternoon between 2-5. However a group of workers do make purchases late in the afternoon between 5 -6 p.m. Only a small group of persons shop regularly in the lunch-hour.

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