A new style of shopping
'A very clean and most ingenious way of serving the public and doing business'
(Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, following a visit to Sainsbury's Harlow store in 1959)
The old counter service way of shopping was time-consuming and labour-intensive. Customers queued at each counter in turn, and had to wait for their goods to be weighed, cut and wrapped to order.
Self-service stores moved the wrapping and weighing of goods from the front of the shop to the back rooms. At first, the staff and equipment required proved expensive, but soon manufacturers began to package their goods before sending them to Sainsbury’s, reducing costs.
Find out more about packaging for self-service.
Customer selected their goods from specially designed display shelving units known as ‘gondolas’, put them in a wire basket, then paid for everything at once at the checkout.
One of the few criticisms of the new self-service supermarket was that: ‘It’s the easiest way in the world of spending too much money. It’s such fun to pop things in the basket yourself that you forget you have to pay on the way out!’ ("Home News" magazine).
However, until rationing
ended, some items such as margarine and cheese were still counter served, in order to control how much each person bought.