The Customer Is Always Right

Marshall Field? Harry Gordon Selfridge? John Wanamaker? César Ritz? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a famous customer service slogan that has been highlighted by several business people. Here are two versions:

The customer is always right.
The customer is never wrong.

Do you know who created this motto?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match located by QI and fellow researcher Barry Popik appeared in an article about the retailer Marshall Field of Chicago that was published in “The Boston Sunday Herald” and “The Boston Globe” in September 1905. The original text used the spelling “employe” instead of “employee”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2

Every employe, from cash boy up, is taught absolute respect for and compliance with the business principles which Mr. Field practices. Broadly speaking, Mr. Field adheres to the theory that “the customer is always right.” He must be a very untrustworthy trader to whom this concession is not granted.

Based on current knowledge QI would tentatively ascribe the adage to Marshall Field. He was definitely central to its early popularization, but it was not certain whether he coined the expression. He may have heard it from another retailer or even an angry customer, and he decided to adopt it. Searchable electronic databases of periodicals and books continue to grow, and in the future additional illuminating citations may be located.

This entry was constructed by request to present the most up-to-date research results for the journalist Forrest Wickman of Slate in October 2015.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Customer Is Always Right


  1. 1905 September 03, The Sunday Herald (Boston Herald), Section: Women’s Section, America’s Biggest Taxpayer Is a Merchant Prince of Chicago: Leads Country’s Big Taxpayers, Quote Page 10, Column 2, Boston, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1905 September 24, Boston Daily Globe, He Shares the Public Burden: Marshall Field of Chicago Pays $750,000 Taxes a Year, Quote Page 41, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)