Young & Rubicam - The Keedoozle.

Just last night I heard an economic statistic about how shopping through mobile devices (tablets, smartyphones) suddenly became a multi-billion dollar slice of the economy last year. Makes sense, right? I do all of my Exmess shopping through Amazon from my couch, while watching Top Gear. Long ago, the sales associate at most retail outlets stopped being a trusted advisor and de-evolved into a slack-jawed ignoramus that somehow insults your intelligence while demonstrating none of his own. So, can you blame us for cutting them out of the equation?  The dream of automated, customer-driven retail was born farther in the past than you might think, as seen in this 1949 ad for Young & Rubicam, who seemed worried about how to advertise in the new world of the Keedoozle. I know. WTF is/was a Keedoozle?

Well, "Keydoozle" was the first automated grocery store, developed by Clarence Saunders in 1937. The whole concept was based around the idea of a vending machine. Customers inserted their paper "key" into a slot next to an item and pressed a button corresponding to sample items displayed in glass cubby holes. Their key was punched with coded holes that recorded the item and price. At the checkout, their key was read by a punchcard reader and the items were delivered via conveyor belt from the "stock room" side of the store, which was operated by a staff of humans.

Like lots of early "labor saving" inventions, it looks incredibly complicated to our modern ears*. The Keydoozle concept relied heavily on machinery that doubtlessly required lots of maintenance, and still required a staff of workers to run the stockroom. Was this any better or simpler than the old grocery cart system? Well, judging by the number of Keedoozle-like stores that we still have today, it seems like a solution to a problem that didn't exist. It didn't really catch on. At least in the massive automated bunkers of Amazon.com, they're running all that machinery to service a huge swath of the country, not just one store.

Saunders' idea was ahead of the technology at the time. We're using a similar system today, but UPC codes and laser scanners have finally made the self-checkout a viable option for people who don't want to have a conversation with a dead-eyed troglodyte who touches our food for us. I love the self-checkout... except when I get stuck behind someone trying to use it for the first time, or someone stuck in "mosey mode" loading up their grocery bags, like there's no one waiting for them to GTFO of the way.

And what about the goofy name, "Keedoozle"? That was the delightfully whimsical name that Clarence Saunders came up with. It's formed from the phrase "key does all". Once again, we see that inventors can demonstrate very poor judgement when it comes to naming their inventions. Did Clarence ever stop to wonder if people wanted to shop at at a store that sounds like it was named by a four-year-old? Well, we still have Piggly-Wiggly stores. Maybe I'm wrong about that.

Click for big.

*I need to remember to use "looks complicated to our modern ears" again. That may be a new favorite phrase.


Jim Dillon said...

The young boy in the picture reminds me of me, circa 1970, showing Mom which Matchbox car I wanted her to (very grudgingly) buy for me from the locked cabinet in the basement of the hardware store.

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

Did you also point to the object of your desire with your Rude Finger? Me too.


Anonymous said...

I used to find it either mortifying or hilarious, depending on our surroundings, that my dad always pointed at things with his Rude Finger. I have recently noticed that I do this now as an adult. I have no idea why.

Our local Buy Rite grocery store had some sort of conveyer belt system in it when I was very young, but I only vaguely remember it. I do remember that only employees got to use it, unlike the Keydoozle. This was in the early 70s.

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

I always point at things with my rude finger, not out of a generalized hostility towards the world, but because it's my longest finger, making it the best pointer. Simple, really.


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