Like a teenager finding his way in the world, the adolescent food industry in the 1950s was trying to figure out how to satisfy customers -- though some of the plans it came up with seem impractical by today's standards.
For example, Mayfair Markets in Los Angeles authorized development of "mechanical go-carts" in 1952, which would "enable housewives to remain comfortably seated as they make their selections," SN reported. Testing was delayed, however, "until a store can be built with wider aisles and custom-made low fixtures protected by rubber guards," SN said.
In Madison, Wis., that same year, three Piggly Wiggly stores sought to increase male traffic by designing the hours between 4 and 6 p.m. as "for men only," though women were also welcome. As SN reported, "Every store employee is sent to the front of the store during these magic hours to give Mr. Shopper the kind of service he will remember."
Harold Morrow, the manager of the Eavey Co. supermarket, Columbus, Ohio, came up with a novel idea to keep his shelves clean and well-stocked in 1953. "Because Mr. Morrow feels women are more adept at keeping things neat, he uses them for this job," SN said. "He prefers women over 30, who 'know the value of a job,' and he also favors those who have no previous experience so they can be easily initiated into Eavey methods."
The Central Avenue Market, Charlotte, N.C., came up with an inefficient solution to a space problem in 1954. Faced with an inability to increase the number of checkstands, the store increased the number of checkstand personnel. According to SN, "The system consists of a two-earphone, battery-operated set, a cash-register stand, conveyor stand and bagging stand. When running full blast, five persons operate the single checkout unit. The caller and checker operate as a team, communicating by earphone. In addition, there are a cashier and two bag boys."
In 1956, IGA stores in 12 cities tested automatic push-button shopping units, which SN described as electronic merchandisers measuring 8 feet wide and 7 feet high. Items were displayed in the units behind a glass wall, with numbers and letters assigned to each. "Upon entering the store, the shopper received a large metal key, which is numbered," SN wrote.
"The key is inserted into a slot on the machine, and the shopper punches the numbers and letters of the items she desires. As the shopper makes the selection, the amount of each item is tabulated and totaled electronically on the tape inside the key. As the selections are punched, the items are dispatched to a box bearing the same number as the key and brought forward on a conveyor belt to the checkout clerk."
A retailer in Houston came up with a drive-through grocery store in 1956 that allowed shoppers to remain in their cars. According to SN, "The Drive-Thru is a long, rectangular building with shelves of groceries on the outside. The motorist, following the arrows, drives into a shopping lane where a basket with hooks is attached to the car door. As the car moves along the lane slowly, a store attendant follows the car, getting from the shelves what the customer points out, and puts it in the basket."
SN reported the store "has been judged a success." It did not indicate how many miles a day the attendant had to run.