Nowadays doing your shopping in a Supermarket is the most normal thing in the world. You go through the aisles, pick up what you need, and then queue up for the check out to pay for your goods.
However this wasn’t always the case. In days of yore( and not even that long ago) you would give a list of your shopping to the clerk in the grocery store, and he or she would then go and pick the items for you off the shelves.
So where did it all start?
Piggly Wiggly was the first true self-service grocery store and the originator of various familiar supermarket concepts such as checkout stands, individual item price marking and shopping carts.
It was founded on September 6, 191 (although it did not open until five days later due to delays in construction)at 79 Jefferson Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, by Clarence Saunders.
Saunders was a bit of an iconoclast. For the store’s opening ceremonies, writes Mike Freeman for the Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Saunders promised to hold a “beauty contest” that he advertised in local newspapers. “At the door Saunders shook their hands and gave to their children flowers and balloons,” Freeman writes. “Newspaper reporters posing as contest judges awarded five and ten dollar gold coins to every woman, while the supply lasted. A brass band serenaded the visitors in the lobby.”
This enthusiastic greeting was necessary because Saunders was trying something completely new. Before Piggly Wiggly, groceries were sold at stores where a clerk would assemble your order for you, weighing out dry goods from large barrels. Even chain stores used clerks.
Piggly Wiggly Corporation secured the self-service format and issued franchises to hundreds of grocery retailers for the operation of its stores. The concept of the “self-serving store” was patented by Saunders in 1917. Customers at Piggly Wiggly entered the store through a turnstile and walked through four aisles to view the store’s 605 items sold in packages and organized into departments. The customers selected merchandise as they continued through the maze to the cashier. Instantly, packaging and brand recognition became important to companies and consumers.