The world of retail has changed dramatically in recent years, with many more people now turning to online shopping for goods ranging from luxury electrical equipment to everyday clothes and grocery shopping. In truth, however, retail has always been an ever-changing world, and the smart retailers who thrive and survive are those who seek out innovations to provide added value to their customers. Here are three such innovations that are now part of every shopping experience, and yet were once revolutionary retail ideas.
Self Service Corner Stores
We’re used to browsing in corner shops today, taking our time picking up items, weighing up whether we really want them or not, and then purchasing them or putting them back on the shelf. Incredible as it may seem, a little over a hundred years ago this wasn’t the done thing at all. At the dawn of the twentieth century, a local shop’s goods were kept behind a counter or on shelves and the customer had to ask for what they wanted to be served up to them. All this changed in 1916 when what became the Piggly Wiggly retail chain opened their first store in Memphis, Tennessee. This first store allowed customers to serve themselves, an idea that changed the worlds of retail and marketing for ever.
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Sell by Dates
Safeway started as a humble grocery store in American Falls, Idaho but has grown to become one of the biggest names in world retail. The catalyst for its success was Marion Skaggs who bought the store from his father in 1915 and decided to innovate to improve the reputation of his store. His idea was to put sell by dates on all his fresh goods, from cakes to bread and milk, so that customers could see instantly that they were getting fresh food that was going to taste great. People still buy and love Safeway Cakes today, but now sell by and use by dates have become de rigueur in grocery retail across the globe.
Barcodes have made shopping faster, easier and more accurate. It now takes a second to get the correct price at a till rather than waiting for an assistant to type an identifying number or price in, and of course barcodes have allowed the self-service checkouts to dominate our superstores. They weren’t an overnight success however. Whilst the barcode was invented in 1952 it wasn’t put into use by a store until 1974. This became such an iconic, transformative moment in the world of retail that this first item scanned by barcode, a packet of chewing gum, is now on display at Washington’s Smithsonian Museum.
Barcodes, self-service stores and sell by dates may not have seemed much at the time of their first use, but they changed the way we shop utterly. They also brought great success to their inventors and their retail outlets, and that’s an important lesson to entrepreneurs and business leaders in all sectors. Innovation can be the key to rapid and sustainable success, so never be afraid of change when the opportunity arises.