Features

12 January 1948: Britain’s first supermarket opens

The self-service supermarket came to Britain on this day in 1948, when the London Co-operative Society opened a store in Manor Park.

15-1-9-supermarket-634

It's 12 January 1948. You're walking down the road in Manor Park, east London, when you pass a grocery store that's just opened. Curious, you venture inside. At first you're puzzled by the lack of service. Then you notice other shoppers picking items off the shelves. You shrug and pick up a basket.

You peruse the aisles and see that baked beans are on offer you've never seen them so cheap. But as you pick up a can and squirrel it away into your basket, you can't shake the feeling that the shopkeeper is watching you.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Become a smarter, better informed investor with MoneyWeek.

Happily, you need not worry. The sign above the door reads "London Co-operative Society", and you are standing in Britain's first supermarket. Helping yourself is the order of the day.

At first, timid housewives found shopping in these new supermarkets daunting. After all, shopping etiquette was ingrained in British society. You went in and chatted with the shopkeeper, while the shop assistant ran around dividing and measuring out the items on your list. You didn't handle the goods you might be called a thief.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

Of course, attending to one customer at a time is hardly economical. But while Americans had been enjoying helping themselves since the 1930s, self-service didn't come to Britain until after the Second World War (although the London Co-op ran a trial in 1942).

With the arrival of self-service came the stack em high, sell em cheap' approach to retail, and prices fell. Many of the shops that clung on to the old ways soon found themselves out of business. Premier Supermarkets lost no time in opening a self-service store in Streatham and sales rocketed. Marks & Spencer followed that same year in Wood Green.

Changing consumer habits came as a boon to supermarkets. But today, with customers shopping online and preferring to visit smaller, in-town stores, the big supermarkets are finding out what it's like to be on the wrong side of change.

Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/519858/how-long-can-the-good-times-roll
Economy

How long can the good times roll?

Despite all the doom and gloom that has dominated our headlines for most of 2019, Britain and most of the rest of the developing world is currently en…
19 Dec 2019
Visit/519447/tesco-should-keep-its-asian-assets
Stock markets

Tesco should keep its Asian assets

The £7bn that Tesco could get for its Tesco Lotus business in Asia looks enticing. But holding on to it would be smarter, says Matthew Lynn.
15 Dec 2019
Visit/514373/tesco-cashes-out-of-the-mortgage-business
Stock markets

Tesco cashes out of the mortgage business

Tesco Bank has left the mortgage market by selling its £3.7bn loan book. Its 23,000 customers will be moved to the Halifax, a subsidiary of Lloyds.
5 Sep 2019
Visit/economy/600859/the-uk-is-doing-fine
Economy

The UK is doing fine

The small matter of the productivity problem aside, the UK economy is doing fine, and should carry on being fine.
20 Feb 2020

Most Popular

Visit/investments/stocks-and-shares/600863/sirius-minerals-anglo-american-takeover
Stocks and shares

Do you own shares in Sirius Minerals? Here’s what you need to do now

Mining giant Anglo American has proposed a cash takeover of Yorkshire-based minnow Sirius Minerals. Unhappy shareholders must decide whether to accept…
20 Feb 2020
Visit/currencies/600842/eur-usd-euro-slide-against-us-dollar
Currencies

The euro’s slide against the US dollar looks set to continue

The euro has been in a bear market against the US dollar for two years now. And on a broader scale since 2008. A decline like that is telling us somet…
19 Feb 2020
Visit/economy/uk-economy/600862/britains-economy-might-spring-a-surprise-on-the-doomsayers-this-year
UK Economy

Britain’s economy might spring a surprise on the doomsayers this year

The UK economy is looking pretty good – we’re more at risk of a boom than a bust, says John Stepek. Here’s why, and what it means for your portfolio.
20 Feb 2020
Visit/investments/stockmarkets/european-stockmarkets/600725/is-2020-the-year-for-european-small-cap
Sponsored

Is 2020 the year for European small-cap stocks?

SPONSORED CONTENT - Ollie Beckett, manager of the TR European Growth Trust, on why he believes European small-cap stocks are performing well.
12 Feb 2019