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70 years of DIY groceries How a new kind of Swiss store changed the way we shop

Seventy years ago, buying groceries in Switzerland and the rest of Europe changed forever when the Swiss retailer Migros opened a new kind of store in Zurich.

In March 1948, Migrosexternal link founder Gottlieb Duttweiler introduced the first self-service store on Seidengasse in Zurich, a controversial move at the time. It meant that customers could, for the first time, choose their own products on shelves instead of getting them from a person behind a counter.

The concept was met with hostility by long-established village and neighbourhood shops, while newspaper reports deemed that picking out one’s own products was something extremely "un-Swiss".

Prior to the innovation, Swiss grocery stores always had a shopkeeper behind a counter who would pick out what the customer required. In turn, the customer had to pay before even touching what they had just bought.

However, customers quickly began to appreciate being able to fill a shopping basket with goods hand-picked from the shelves quickly. The concept brought record sales to the new Migros store.

Off your trolley

By the 1950s, self-service shopping had become well established in Swiss retail and was commonplace throughout the country. Due to post-war economic growth, consumers were buying so much produce that shopping baskets alone were becoming too small and too heavy, so something more convenient was needed. The basket was given small wheels, and the "shopping trolley" was born.

Today, the retail trade is undergoing a revolution once again, this time through self-checkout terminals and online retailing. And at least one link to the past remains: the humble shopping basket, which has survived as the check-out icon on online sites. Perhaps some things will never change.

Facts and figures

321,700
Employees in the Swiss retail trade under contract in 2017.
Retail is the sector with the third-largest number of employees in Switzerland, behind health and education.

1948
The year the first self-service grocery store opened, where customers could choose their own items.

1959
The first shopping trolleys in Switzerland were tested in a Migros branch in Zurich Höngg.

150'000
Shopping trolleys are used today in Migros stores throughout Switzerland.

Quelle: MGB-Archiv, Bundesamt für Statistik

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