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Video: The History of Credit Cards

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Today, credit cards are one of the most important sources of big bank profits. However, a look at the history of credit cards shows that things weren’t always that way.

The History of Credit Cards

While it may seem today that credit is impersonal and calculated, credit was once a privilege built around personal trust and long-lasting relationships. In the late 19th century, stores began offering credit to their best and most trustworthy customers. Instead of paying each time they visited the shop, a regular could defer payments to the future by using store-issued metal coins or plates that had their account number engraved. Shops would record the purchase details, and add the cost of the item bought to the customer’s balance owed.

By the 1920s, shops started issuing paper cards instead of metal plates, but even these became cumbersome. Consumers had to hold different cards for each shop, and this made the sector ripe for disruption.

Diners Club, the first independent credit card company in the world, did just that in the 1950s. Their cards allowed people to make travel and entertainment purchases, even with different vendors.

Bank of America took this idea and ran with it, forever changing the history of credit cards. They launched the “BankAmericard” in Fresno, California, by sending it out to all 60,000 residents at once. Soon all consumers and vendors in the city were using the same card, and the concept of mass-mailing cards to the public spread like a wildfire.

After these risky mass mailings of credit cards eventually culminated in the Chicago Debacle of 1966, they were outlawed in the 1970s for causing “financial chaos”. With no applications required, many people including compulsive debtors, crooks, and narcotics addicts were able to receive easy credit. By the time such mass airdrops became illegal, 100 million cards had already been unleashed on the U.S. population without a need for an application.

In 1976, the BankAmericard system eventually became Visa. It was soon after this point that credit cards would enter their golden age for banks: as savings rates fell in the early 1980s, the interest rates on debt did not. Credit cards became a “cash cow”, and they’ve been a key source of bank profits ever since.

Today, 80% of U.S. households own multiple cards, and they account for just under $1 trillion of consumer debt.

Original video by: &Orange

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The Top Retailers in the World, by Store Count

Here are the top retailers in the world by physical store presence, illustrating the dominance of convenience and drug store chains.

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This circle graphic shows the retailers with the highest number of locations worldwide.

The Top Retailers in the World, by Store Count

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Which retail chains have the highest global store counts?

Owing to their rapid speed of service in providing the basics to customers, convenience chains stand as the clear leaders. Going further, their smaller footprint allows them to expand their store counts at a greater scale.

This graphic shows the top retailers in the world by store count, based on data from the National Retailers Federation.

Japanese Retailers Dominate the Pack

Below, we show the global retailers with the most physical storefronts in 2023:

RankingRetailerTotal Stores WorldwideIndustryHeadquarters
1Seven & I40,454Convenience Store🇯🇵 Japan
2FamilyMart24,251Convenience Store🇯🇵 Japan
3Lawson21,902Convenience Store🇯🇵 Japan
4CP All16,042Convenience Store🇹🇭 Thailand
5AS Watson16,014Drug Store🇭🇰 Hong Kong
6Schwarz Group14,112Discount Grocery🇩🇪 Germany
7Carrefour14,014Supermarkets🇫🇷 France
8Couche-Tard13,505Convenience Store🇨🇦 Canada
9Aldi13,475Discount Grocery🇩🇪 Germany
10Walgreens Boots Alliance12,961Drug Store🇺🇸 U.S.

Leading by a wide margin is Japan’s Seven & I Holdings, with 40,454 store locations worldwide.

The retail giant includes the 7-Eleven franchise along with Ito-Yokado, its supermarket chain. While the world’s largest convenience chain traces its origins to Dallas, Texas, the remainder of the U.S-based company (27%) was acquired in 2005 in a $1.2 billion deal that took the company fully private. Today, the company operates in 10 markets globally.

Next in line are Japan’s FamilyMart and Lawson, each boasting over 20,000 locations. For perspective, Walmart, America’s largest retail company by revenues, operates 10,569 locations globally.

In Europe, Germany’s discount grocery chain Schwarz takes the lead, due to its extensive network of stores. Operating across 30 countries and with over 500,000 employees, the no-frills chain stands as a powerhouse. France’s supermarket giant, Carrefour, follows closely behind.

Ranking in eighth is Canadian retailer, Couche-Tard, with stores largely concentrated in North America and Europe. Since 2004, the company has made over 60 acquisitions, including 2,200 gas stations from French oil company TotalEnergies in 2023. The company is known for its Circle K brand, which operates in 24 countries globally.

Closing off the list is Walgreens Boots Alliance, the only American retailer in the rankings. The company owns the ubiquitous UK-based Boots brand, which was founded in 1849 in Nottingham. Yet as profits margins face increasing strains, it is looking to sell the subsidiary and instead focus more heavily on its U.S. pharmacy and healthcare businesses. With a presence in 13 countries, the pharmacy chain operates 12,961 stores worldwide.

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