During the 1950s, entrepreneur Lawrence Freiman launched a new concept store that attempted to redefine shopping. He came up with an interesting idea. He built a store, ‘Vis-O-Matic,’ where a customer store was equipped with televisions. Customers ordered products directly from the screen, sat down, and then headed home as their purchases were shipped directly to them.
It was a small air-conditioned shop on the main street equipped with booths and screens for flashing color images of merchandise items. Eight booths were equipped with 27-inch color televisions so customers could view the products. The product catalogs were stored similarly to microfilm in libraries, and staff changed what images were displayed on the screen based on the customer’s needs. Each booth had three buttons: an “advance” button that toggled forward through the catalog, a “reverse” button that toggled back, and a knob that let customers skip slides. In all, 3,750 products were digitized and available for shipment to Pembroke. When customers chose a product, they wrote their order on a notepad integrated into booth armrests for ease of use. One of four “sales counselors” used a teletype, a precursor to the fax, to send the paper back to Ottawa. The goods were delivered the next day by mail or express.
However, Freiman knew that his store would not be profitable in the short term. Shipping orders from Ottawa to Pembroke was far too expensive to offset profits unless customers throughout Canada placed orders remotely. He stressed that the Pembroke store was an experiment, and “we will proceed cautiously.” Eventually, he sold the retail giant Hudson’s Bay in the 1960s and changed the store concept.