Past Times

The year IBM introduced bar codes at the grocery checkout counter

By the time this photo was made in 1974, Billy Green and Green’s Service Store were already behind the times. The store was located at the corner of Glenwood Avenue and Washington Street in Raleigh, the current site of MA Allen Interiors.
By the time this photo was made in 1974, Billy Green and Green’s Service Store were already behind the times. The store was located at the corner of Glenwood Avenue and Washington Street in Raleigh, the current site of MA Allen Interiors. N&O File Photo

Something was on the horizon in 1973 that would revolutionize the grocery shopping experience. N&O writer Marilyn Spencer introduced readers to the new “computerized supermarket system.”

Tomorrow’s computerized supermarket is here.

And it’s being developed and assembled right here in Raleigh.

Long lines and frustrating delays for price checks are expected to be a thing of the past with the advent of computerized checkout systems.

Two new automated checkout systems – one designed for supermarkets and one for retail stores – were announced Thursday by International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). A special demonstration of the systems was given for the press at IBM’s demonstration center here.

By mid-1974 the computerized checkout systems are expected to be installed in some major supermarkets and department stores across the nation. Although computerized checkouts are already on the market, IBM officials described theirs as the most complete system, offering a scanner, point of sale terminal, communications unit and control unit.

A computerized supermarket system offers the consumer faster checkouts, greater accuracy, and a timed and dated itemized receipt.

Under the system, one clerk can “check” and bag groceries at the same time. Items, marked with a code of small, vertical black bars, are passed through a high-speed scanner equipped with a laser light source.

The customer can watch the item and cost appear on a lighted panel and at the end of checkout receives an itemized receipt, with name and cost of each item.

Uncoded groceries, such as some produce and meat, can be entered through the terminal’s keyboard. The control’s unit price files have a capacity for up to 22,000 coded items. Fluctuating prices, sales and specials are no problem. The changes can be made daily in the controller’s files and on the shelf.

In addition, the system has the ability to calculate such special procedures as multiple-priced items (such as two for 89 cents), mix and match items, discounts, food stamps, refunds, store and vendor coupons, applicable taxes and correct change.

At the day’s end, the system computes sales and transmits a report to the central computer on cash receipts, checks, and store and vendor coupons. Data provided by the system aids in routine reordering, inventory management, warehouse orders, labor scheduling and merchandising.

After much testing and consultation with industry officials, the new system is now ready to be presented to what IBM describes as their “most critical customer” – the housewife.

Consumer groups, clamoring for more information on labels, have already expressed dismay that the price will soon be left off grocery items, even though the price and name of item will be posted on the shelf.

But IBM’s systems management planning director, William A. Brocker, says once consumers adjust to the new system, they will realize the increased benefits of the system. With the itemized receipt, the consumer is actually getting more information than ever before, Brocker said. He described the new system as “a step forward in consumerism.”

IBM already has received orders for the systems, although officials declined to release the names of the firms.

The retail store system is not as comprehensive as the supermarket system due to a lack of a universal coding system and the wide range of items carried by the typical department store. But the retail system enables faster transactions and provides data for efficient handling and selling of goods. The N&O Nov. 4, 1973

The system, identified as the IBM 3660 supermarket system, included a store controller that could handle up to 24 points of sale terminals (although IBM expected the typical unit to have eight terminals) costing $34,000 and eight scanners costing $32,000. The controller and communications unit would rent for $299 a month, but the entire system could be purchased for $118,760, more than $650,000 in today’s dollars.

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Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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