One of the most interesting marketing innovations that has changed the retailing environment of developed countries is the supermarket. Today supermarkets and larger superstores account for about 85 per cent of grocery trade in the United Kingdom; and in the United States and Canada supermarkets similarly dominate the food retailing system. The important role of the supermarket in distributing food in the developed countries had been seen by some policy-makers, government agencies, and entrepreneurs in developing countries as part of the solution to the problems which they face in their inefficient food retailing system. The adoption of self-service supermarket technology and the achievement of economies of scales through bulk purchasing and mass-merchandising are seen as one way to help to modernise the food retailing industry and eventually of bringing about a reduction in food prices. Hence, the supermarket is perceived by some as possibly making a contribution to the economic development of developing countries (Slater, et al. 1969; Mitterndorf 1978; Yavas, et al. 1981, Goldman 1982). There are, however, many hidden assumptions about the nature of supermarket retailing and about how it will operate in less-developed countries, underpinning this perception of supermarkets as a positive contribution to development.
The contractual success of the supermarket in developed countries has prompted their introduction in some developing countries. This chapter is concerned with the experience of just one country (Malaysia) and with the factors that appear to have been important in promoting supermarket use.
In Malaysia the first supermarket was introduced in 1964 in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city. McTaggart (1969) reported that during the early years after the introduction of this first supermarket in Kuala Lumpur, the customers were mostly Europeans and other expatriates. The few local customers were from the upper income groups. The