restricted access Retailer–Supplier Relationships before and after the Resale Prices Act, 1964: A Turning Point in British Economic History?

This article provides an analysis of the impact of the abolition of individual resale price maintenance (irpm) in 1964 on the relationships between retailers and suppliers and, wider, on defining features of the UK economic structure. It describes the role of irpm prior to 1964 in a complex competitive environment that existed across a range of goods and services. A key feature of this environment was the influence manufacturers had over retail margins and pricing. It shows how the 1964 Resale Price Act both unraveled this system and provided the legal prerequisite of today’s dominance by large retailers, as oligopolists and oligopsonists. The study delineates how a different set of business relationships came to dominate the retailing sector: in place of retailing as a manufacturer’s marketing strategy, conditions of supply were determined by the business strategies of multiple retailers. Retailing was further characterized by mutual dependencies among multiple retailers, commercial property investors, and the financial sector. In tracking this shift in business relationships, a historical analogy suggests itself that the Act has parallels with the Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, for both changed the balance of economic power between two key business sectors in Britain.