History of Retailing and Consumption | VOL. ahead-of-print
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Robot salesmen: automated food retailing in the United States, 1925–39

Publication Date Mar 5, 2022

Abstract

ABSTRACT Over the past decade, self-service checkouts and app-based platforms have sparked a renewed interest in automated shopping. Yet the promise of an automated retail future – efficient, convenient and cheaper – has a long history, little examined by historians. As an initial study of this phenomenon, this article focuses on food vending machines in the United States from 1925 to 1939, an era when the hopes and hype of an automated future were high. Industry boosters argued that the new ‘robot salesmen’ would not only eliminate intermediaries such as store clerks and cashiers (and their associated labour costs) but that automated technologies would eventually replace traditional stores. Through an analysis of industry journals, collectors’ catalogues and the popular press, this article examines the rhetoric surrounding the potential of food distribution via machines. This hype is tested against the reality that some automated retail technologies succeeded while others failed.

Concepts

Food Vending Machines Self-service Checkouts App-based Platforms Store Clerks United States Popular Press Retail Technologies Vending Machines Food Vending Industry Journals

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