1957 1700 self-service grocers in Australia

Interior of Broadhead & Barcham, self-service grocers c1957. State Library NSW

By 1957, there were  1700 self-service grocers in Australia.  Although only about 7% of them could be termed supermarkets, these accounted for 20% of sales. If you can believe this picture, women were very excited by the innovation and dressed up (complete with gloves) to do the grocery shopping.

In his book The Record of Global Economic Development, Eric Lionel Jones documents the rapid rise of self-service grocers in the mid-1950s. He writes:

Self-service shopping meant that shopping was carried out rather briskly by choosing for oneself rather than standing at a counter for assistance or waiting at home for a series of delivery men, for which fewer customers were able to afford the time. Already in 1954 there were 766 self-service stores in Australia and by 1957 the Australian Financial Review was reporting that food retailers were converting to self-service at the rate of 40 per month.

The growth of self-service grocers didn’t end there.  Jones continued:

Summer 1958  saw a staggering leap of 25 per cent above the number of self-service stores that had existed in 1957: by February there were 2126. Associated innovations appeared in the form of equipment such as turnstiles and trolleys. In 1958, a survey of 9000 Melbourne housewives found that 61 per cent did indeed prefer self-service to either counter service or delivery.

Coles and Woolworths began to trial self-service in 1956 and in 1960 both major chains opened their first supermarkets, where self-service was taken to a new level with a wide range of fresh and packaged foods and general merchandise.

See also Timeline of Retail Grocery Trends.

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