Richard Sears was a railroad agent in the late 1800's. One day he came across a box of watches that were sent to Chicago by mistake then sold them to agents up and down the railroad for a nice profit. He bought more watches and started a watch distribution company, later hiring a watch repair man by the name of Alvah Roebuck. They started selling watches by catalogs to rural farmers.
In those days it was tough living in rural America. It could take several hours to get to the nearest store. The rural farmers were being ripped off by the local general stores who held monopoly power over them. But then they started receiving the Sears catalog in which they could order items delivered by post at a fraction of the price they were used to. It was a tremendous increase in the purchasing power of consumers. Soon Sears and Roebuck expanded their product offerings to a 768 page book of 200,000 items, exponentially increasing the level of choice for consumers. Sears and Roebuck revolutionized the way people consumed goods and vastly improved quality of life.
Source: The Long Tail by Chris Anderson