From Piggly Wiggly to Chatbots in 100 Years

antique cash register

Chatbots are here to stay and are quickly becoming the sound of doing business at home, in the office and on the road.

Self-Serve Innovation

Who knew the chatbot’s self-serve pedigree could be traced back to a small grocery store in Memphis, Tennessee? It’s hard to imagine walking into today’s supermarket, but in 1917 shopping for your daily bread required a store clerk who picked your shopping list from the shelves while you waited.

In 1917, Clarence Saunders, the founder of Piggly Wiggly grocery stores, had a better idea. He replaced the store clerk with customer self-service and was rewarded with a U.S. patent and a personal fortune for his innovation. Ordering and fulfillment would never be the same again.

Clarence’s aha moment permanently changed the buyer to seller relationship and created what we label today as the self-service economy. Impossible to image that self-checkout would someday have an estimated global value of $245B. Driven by the rapid adoption of what has become inexpensive technology, AI / Bot self-service is part of the fabric of everyday life, delivering more choice, convenience, personalization and anywhere/anytime accessibility to an explosion of products and services. It’s a long way from Clarence’s SKU count of about 600 items and the store clerk’s paper pad and pencil.

Dialing for Dollars

In common with the grocery stores of their day, our first telephone networks required the buyer (caller) to speak with a clerk (operator) who facilitated the service by patching the calling parties together with cables plugged into the operator’s panel.

This was true until 1919, when the American Bell Telephone Company purchased the secondhand rotary telephone patent and stitched together the first national service for user controlled (self-service) rotary dial telephones – a system that would remain intact until the 1970’s when rotary was displaced with push button tone dialing foretelling the digital revolution to come…


For more milestones along the evolution of self-service, and to learn about what’s coming next in the timeline, visit C3i Solutions’ blog to read the original post.