3 Inventions That Changed The Face Of Retail

Photo credit: Conor Lawless on Flickr.

It’s the 21st century, and the way we shop is ever-evolving. Previous generations probably had no idea that in 2014, we’d be able to get cash out of walls, shop in a virtual world, and assign a unique number to almost every product in existence.

In this one-off blog, we look at these 3 incredible inventions – ones which arguably changed the face of retail.


John Shepherd-Barron invented the cash machine as a solution for wanting to ‘get my own money, anywhere in the world’. He drew inspiration from a chocolate bar dispenser and, after a hurried meting with the CEO of Barclays bank, the first ATM was installed in Enfield, London, 1967. Before widespread use of credit cards, the machines used cheques, reading its numbers and matching them against a PIN (another invention of Shepherd-Barron’s; this one came from his 6-figure army number). The maximum withdrawal was £10 (roughly £163 in today’s money).

Although barcodes were being tested as early as 1960, it wasn’t until they evolved into the Universal Product Code (UPC) that they began to be used commercially – and the first instance of this was in 1974, when a pack of Wrigley’s gum was successfully scanned (the receipt is now on display in the Smithsonian). Most countries use the UPC or some kind of barcode, which has proved useful for monitoring merchandising, repricing stock, and responding to customer demand, but it’s not a device solely restricted to retail – they’re also used to track mail, monitor patients and even security access.

There’s no denying that the internet has changed the world – and there’s no place this is more apparent, than in the retail sphere. Together with online trading, Ecommerce is useful for gathering data on customers, can be used to exchange data between businesses, and can reach anyone in the world through various mediums (video, email, instant message). British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the ‘internet’ as we know it today in 1990 with the first browser, WorldWideWeb (Or ‘Nexus’), and in 1995, a book was purchased from WH Smith’s shop (within CompuServe’s UK shopping centre), which marked the UK’s first online shopping transaction. This was also the year that Amazon launched online. By 2009, we even had our own virtual currency – Bitcoin.