7 Questions That Businesses Rarely Ask Their Customers Anymore

Self-serve wasn't around when this picture was taken in 1939.

It’s hard for me to believe, but today is my 50th birthday.

I know, I don’t look a day over 65.

When I was a young boy, I thought 50 was ancient. Perhaps it is; but I don’t feel ancient. In fact, with only a few minor exceptions, I feel pretty much the same way today as I did when I was 30. I really do.

It’s a tired cliche, but time really does fly. And as I get older, the pages of my life seem to turn faster and faster.

I’m not complaining, mind you; it’s just an observation.

Of course, over my fifty years, the world has changed quite a bit. The Internet and other technological improvements have changed the way many companies do business. As a result, certain questions people used to routinely encounter long ago while out-and-about have, for the most part, gone the way of the dodo.

What kind of questions am I referring to, you ask? Well, here are just a few examples:

“Blue Chip or S&H Green Stamps?”

Blue Chip and S&H Green stamps were the first loyalty discount programs. Usually, the stamps were offered by grocery stores, gas stations, and pharmacies — but they were also supposedly offered by a few other businesses too, including mortuaries and brothels. Yes, those brothels. When I was little, I remember my mom collecting stamps by the thousands and then pasting them into books. When she accumulated enough, we’d get in the car and head over to the redemption center where she’d redeem them for all kinds of cool merchandise. ¬†Over time, the advent of the digital age permitted the development of far less-costly loyalty programs. As a result, both Blue Chip and S&H Green Stamps fell out of favor during the 1980s.

“Can I check under the hood?”

Although the first self-service gas station in the US opened way back in 1947, until the late 1970s it was hard to find anything other than full-service stations with attendants who would cheerfully fill-up your tank, clean the windshield, and check the car’s tires and fluids. Despite the convenience they provided, those full-service stations slowly began to fall into disfavor as gasoline prices rose during the following decade. Today, full-service gasoline stations are almost impossible to find outside of Oregon and New Jersey, where state laws there prohibit self-service. No, really.

“Regular or ethyl?”

Before premium unleaded gasoline, there was something called “ethyl,” which is short for tetraethyl leaded gasoline. Motorists who wanted a higher-octane gasoline that eliminated engine knocking would typically pay a few cents more per gallon for ethyl — or “high test.” Leaded gasoline for cars was completely phased out of the US market in 1995.

“Beta or VHS?”

Back in the late 1980s, whenever I’d call my local video store to inquire if they had a particular movie available for rent on videotape, they’d ask me whether I wanted it in Beta or VHS. Eventually, DVDs — which have their own set of problems — killed off videotape. Meanwhile, streaming-video services like Netflix, Amazon Instant and HBO have all but killed off the brick-and-mortar video rental store.

“Layaway or cash-and-carry?”

Although layaway plans are making a bit of a comeback, they’re still relatively rare. Probably because, unlike credit credit cards, you don’t get what you’re paying for until you completely retire the bill — and that can be risky. Most layaway plans also charge additional fees. That’s why savvy shoppers prefer to save their money ahead of time — doing so allows them to purchase and carry home their merchandise on the same day.

“Cassette or 8-track tape?”

If you’re under 45, ask Mom or Dad about the horrors of 8-track tapes. How anybody thought they were a good idea is beyond me. I think I’ll leave it at that.

“What floor, please?”

Believe it or not, there were department stores that had employees operating elevators as recently as the 1970s. I know this because I have a family member who used to be an elevator operator. Today, the stores expect you to push the elevator buttons. No, I’m not complaining. It’s just an observation.

Photo Credit: dok1


  1. 1

    Duane says

    Interesting reminisces. I remember all these and more. Prior to the advent of the 8-track tape player, there was a device that would play 45 rpm records in your car but I think only if you were parked. The 8 track tape liberated the driver to listen to their music while driving. What a technological innovation!
    Oh yes and what about Gas Wars. Service stations near each other where I am from would actually place signs up stating a Gas War was on and sell their gasoline for less than their neighbor stations. They would drop prices over and over to be the least expensive to draw the customers in. One time as a small boy in 1963 my Dad drove 5 miles out of town to buy gas for 11.9 cents per gallon because he heard there was a gas war in a nearby town. He saved so much by driving out there, he gave me a bottle of pop for riding out there with him!

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