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Self-Service: Trending Since 1883

Imagine going to a store 100 years ago: you approach a counter and hand over your shopping list to a clerk.

Then you wait as the clerk goes about gathering the items on your list from the shelves behind, placing them in a box (while a line of customers gathers behind you, waiting their turn). Finally, the clerk brings the box to the counter and you pay.

That was the shopping experience at the start of the 20th century. Then in 1917, an enterprising fellow in Memphis, Tennessee named Clarence Saunders applied for and was granted a patent for a “self-serving” store. The innovative grocer’s idea was that people would enter the store and go to the shelves themselves to select what they wanted, then bring it all to a cashier to pay. Saunders’ stores, called Piggly Wiggly, were a huge success, and Saunders revolutionized the retail industry.

We take that approach for granted now. In fact it’s gone further, with self-checkout lanes, and in leading-edge brick-and-mortar retail stores, you simply select what you want from shelves and then head out the door (something Saunders actually envisioned, though the technology did not exist). Computers in the form of personal devices log a shopper’s selections and charge their payment app automatically!

Self-service got its start in England in 1883 with the invention of vending machines. People could put their pence into a machine and get postcards, writing paper, or postage stamps, without having to go to a clerk. The vending machines brought ease and efficiency to the Brits, while the Royal Mail saved time and money!

In America, Thomas Adams Gum Company knew a good idea when they saw it, and by 1888 were dispensing chewing gum via vending machines in U.S. train stations.

Self-serve marched forward through the 20th century. In the U.S., gas pumps became self-serve in 1947, though it took a while before it spread across the country. Bank ATMs came along in the late 1960s, with wide use by the 1970s and 80s.

In the 21st century, retailing, banking and more moved online, then “on-device,” providing even more convenience. Self-service has continued to spread as technology has enabled it.

The success behind the trend to evermore self-service has been its win-win nature. Customers actually like the speed and efficiency of helping themselves in many contexts. Meanwhile, providers save on labor and time. Investing in the tools and technologies of self-service has provided a great return.

The spread of the automated ease of self-service has greatly impacted people’s expectations, not only in a consumer context but also in business-to-business contexts. Thanks to technology, “acquisition control” is handed to the person with the need or desire of acquiring, much to their satisfaction. Now they expect it.

There are still areas where companies have not taken advantage of self-service, though the technology is proven and readily available. One of these is vendor inquiry self-service. The capability has now been around for several years, but implementation has been lower on the priority list than other parts of P2P automation.

But like every other self-service advance, it is popular among users. No more leaving messages or sending emails for needed information, then waiting for a reply.

Some 80 percent of vendor calls to accounts payable (or to purchasing, who have to call AP) are simple information queries. Those calls and emails can be wiped out and the vendors given access to the information they want, when they want it through vendor inquiry self-service portals. It’s secure, fast, and saves you and your vendors time and contributes to good vendor relations. What’s not to like?

It’s time to find out more …

To see how InvoiceInfo’s vendor self-service solutions can benefit your operations and your company click here to request more information or call (678) 335-5735.



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