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13.1.13

Pricing Guns Versus Bar Codes...

Lovely 1980s Cadbury's Wispa chocolate bar (read our article on Wispa here), with bar code and sticky price label. 18p! And they were even cheaper if you bought them from a supermarket. I haven't seen any sticky little price labels on anything for ages. The bar code, making a determined onslaught in the 1980s, began turning those friendly (sometimes!) folks with the pricing guns, trotting around the supermarket aisles, into an endangered species.

The 1980s saw huge technological changes erupting into our lives - the arrivals of various early and hugely influential computers, the first commercial computer mouse and mobile phones, satellite TV, Microsoft Windows, the compact disc, the C5 car (OK, not a great hit), the UK's first debit card - which sent plastic money into the ascendancy... plus, VCRs (you could always rent if you couldn't buy) and microwave ovens were also hitting the mainstream... yep, the decade positively crackled with electrically charged change.

And this was reflected in the shops, too. Slowly at first, the bar code began to make its presence felt. Sainsbury's, for instance, installed its first bar code scanning tills in 1982, and gradually these were rolled out throughout its stores. A great friend of mine who worked at a large Sainsbury's store out in the sticks in the mid-1980s, told me the story of the scanner tills arrival at her store:

"The beeping noise drove us all bats at first - and you could hear it in your head when you got home at night. I think it was louder with the early tills. Of course, now we take it as a part of everyday life, but I got married in 1986, shortly after the new tills arrived at the store I worked at, and I remember, on my honeymoon, thinking I heard a beep in the hotel bedroom at a very, well... to avoid being crude I'll call it a very 'romantic' moment. I think I was a bit befuddled with wine, because I interrupted proceedings to ask my new hubby: 'Was that a beep?' Good job he worked at Sainsbury's too, because he understood perfectly!"

 Johnny Ball's Think Box, 1982. Look - no bar code!

Incidentally, I was a great bookworm, and found the arrival of bar codes on book covers in the early 1980s positively hideous. I loved (and still do love) books, and bar codes printed on the back of each new purchase looked ugly and alien to me. And, at that time, I couldn't understand just what purpose they could have! Of course, the bar codes needed to be in place on merchandise before shops could invest in the equipment to use them.


Weetabix box from 1987, featuring one of the Weetabix skinheads in trendy hip hop garb doing a spot of breaking. The cereal was fifty-six pence way back then (sell-by date Aug '87) and the box has both price label and bar code (the bar code was on the other end). Until supermarkets were equipped with scanner tills, the pricing gun continued to be an essential tool. This particular purchase was made at a small Sainsbury's store and, whilst the supermarket chain installed its first bar code scanners in 1982, it would seem that by 1987 this particular store was still without them.

3 comments:

  1. Ha ha, when I was a kid, I desperately wanted one of those price guns that the girl in our local Co-op store had. It looked like such a fun job to have. Come to think of it, I would still be quite happy to do that job now!

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    1. Mmmm... sounds wonderfully stress free!

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  2. I think there were too many changes in technology in the 1980's. It wore me out!

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