retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Got an email this morning that was an instant eye-opener.

Now, I get a lot of emails and a lot of press releases. Most of them are instantly disposable; there's a reason that the "delete" button is one of the more-used keys on my MacBook Pro.

But this one grabbed me.

It was from NACS, and pointed out that 50 years ago tomorrow, "convenience store operator John Roscoe flipped the switch at a convenience store in Westminster, Colorado, to activate the first U.S. remote access self-service gasoline pumps." The release points out that "Roscoe’s wasn’t the first self-serve gas station - as far back as the 1930s, some stores allowed customers to pump their fuel with a nearby attendant resetting the pump and collecting money - but this station was the first that allowed true self-serve as we’ve come to know it."

Fifty years ago. Yikes.

When you think about it, self-service gasoline stations have been one of the most memorable and impactful retailing evolution shifts in our lifetime. In the same way, I think, that ATMs - essentially self-service banking - have changed consumer behavior in fundamental ways.

It took some time to catch on - NACS says about a decade, noting that there are just two states (New Jersey and Oregon) that don't allow self-service gas stations - but today it is hard to imagine a world without them.

And what's really important about them, beyond the fact that it ended up being good for the c-store business in that it reduced labor costs significantly, is that it tapped into a nascent trend … the empowerment of consumers. The simple fact is that today, shoppers fully expect to be in charge of the consumption experience and believe that the companies with which they do business should be transparent … and the creation of the self-service gas station industry was part of the beginning of that.

It is an Eye-Opener.

BTW…I did a quick check and discovered that in 1964 … the year I turned 10 … a gallon of gasoline cost 30 cents, a first class stamp cost a nickel, a dozen eggs cost 54 cents, and a gallon of milk cost 95 cents. The average US life expectancy was 70.2 years, the Dow Jones high for that year was 891, and unemployment was 5.7 percent.

KC's View: