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Kmart cash counter, n.d.

Kmart cash counter, n.d.

In today's world, technology changes in the blink of an eye. It seems that as soon as you get used to a new piece of software, a new version comes out, and every year there are new gadgets and gizmos to add to the Christmas list. The world of retail is not exempt from these changes, and while it's true that store displays change a lot more often than the tools of the trade, working in a store today is a lot different than it was 100, 50, even 10 years ago.

 

Cash registers provide an excellent illustration of this point. They have always been a fixture in the retail industry and while their form hasn't changed that much over the years, what they are capable of certainly has. Not so very long ago store cash registers only rang as high as $5 (and some people still remember ones that only rang as high as $2). If a customer wanted to purchase $10 worth of merchandise, it had to be done in 2 separate transactions. Then, if the customer wanted to pay with a $20 bill, a supervisor had to be called to oversee the transaction (although that was store policy and not a limitation of the cash register). Eventually, the cash register began to evolve beyond a tool for storing money and calculating transactions and to take on other functions as well. Registers became capable of capturing sales information for various departments. At first they were limited to capturing a few departments but as electronic registers became more and more sophisticated, information on individual SKUs could be captured. While this sounds pretty close to the way things work today, when these registers were first introduced to Zellers the world wasn't as wired as it is today. Bill Miles described what it was like when Store 82 first installed these machines:

 

Modern cash counter, 2003

Cash counter, 2003

And on these registers, they were so new and experimental and nobody was on line then as we are today, ... , when the store closed at 10:00 at night, you then had to take these rolls of tape, like ticker tape, out of the bottoms of the cash register and they had to be delivered by car to the NCR [National Cash Register] head office which was at the corner of Yonge and Eglinton. They'd be processed there overnight and then someone from NCR would bring the figures back to the Zellers store the next morning. And after that ... Zellers eventually got those in all the stores.

 

Cash registers today also come equipped with credit card readers and barcode scanners, two relatively new additions. Processing purchases made with credit cards no longer involves multi-layered forms with carbon sheets inserted into little swipe plates that always seem to jam. Barcode scanners mean that not every item has to have an individual price tag. Gone are the days of printed paper tickets meticulously pinned to each item at the store before it is placed on the shelves. Price sticker guns are also rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

 

Old Simpsons charge plate, ca. 1940s

Old Simpsons charge plate, ca. 1940s

As these various items of technology gradually disappear from our stores, it is important that samples of them be maintained so that we may amaze future generations with how far we have progressed.