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6 Ways Convenience Stores Have Changed the World

Although you wouldn't know it from the whining that fills nearly every page of the Internet, the world's actually a pretty easy place to live in. We're surrounded by products and services and features designed to make our lives easier, to the point where people from a generation or two earlier must think we're huge mewling babies every time we open our mouths.

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"Someone registered the Twitter account "@hampirate" before you could? That sounds much worse than being shot four times in Korea."

There's a lot of reasons for the general easing of our lives, even aside from obvious things like the arrival of the Internet and the general decline in popularity of Asian proxy wars. Like for example, convenience stores. No bull; aside from granting you the ability to get corn snacks at hours our ancestors would have considered impossible, if not downright degenerate, convenience stores have changed the world in more ways than you can count.

Unless you can count to six.

Here are six of them.

#6. One-Stop Everything

Of course, at most convenience stores you can do a lot more than just buy Cheetos.

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You can still do that though, so don't worry.

The big selling feature of convenience stores is, intuitively, their convenience. Selling things that we could get elsewhere, but just making it easier for us. This has been extended into some pretty innovative areas; depending on the country you live in, convenience stores will let you:

Do Some Banking

Convenience stores and grocery stores were among the first to get off-premise ATMs installed in them. Convenience stores ended up being ideal places for these off-premise ATM deployments; they were brightly lit, staffed locations where people needed cash.

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And they let you do your banking without having to subject yourself to bankers and their judging eyes.

Buy A Phone Card

Phone cards are little cards you can buy with a 1-800 number and a PIN that allow you to contact a telecom company, which will provide you with cheap long distance (which is great for people who are still paying "long distance").

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"Hello, Mega-Legit-Success-Communications? Grandma, please."

They actually work great, but without the convenience stores acting as trusted middle men, it seems unlikely these telecom companies would ever have gotten anyone to give them a cent.

You Know Something? Forget It, Let's Just Buy The Whole Freaking Phone

For people with limited access to credit (a non-trivial portion of convenience store customers), getting a cell phone used to be a huge pain in the ass. Prepaid cell phones simplified that, offering cell phones off contract that could be filled up with cash at various locations. Now, even people with ruined credit had a whole new world opened up to them, and it was in part thanks to the ready-built distribution system that convenience stores offered.

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And by "whole new world" we mean they could start playing Snake.

Basically Everything An Asian Person Could Want

It turns out that in Taiwan you can apparently pay parking tickets at convenience stores. Throughout Asia, in fact, convenience stores offer all sorts of services, like ordering couriers, photocopying, sending faxes, making bill payments, or picking up concert tickets. Why? Basically, convenience stores have caught on in Asia in a way that would surprise many Americans. And, because they're so common and popular, they've been forced to compete on their one defining feature: convenience. How popular are they? In Japan and Taiwan, probably due to simple population density (or their insatiable love for Pocky), there are now something like three to four times the number of convenience stores per person as the United States.


Japanese students continue to put American students to shame on Pocky consumption.

#5. Fresh Ice

Ice is that cold thing we can totally make ourselves in our freezers, and that's about all most people ever really need to know about it. Sure, we sometimes have to buy it in bulk if we need to drink beers by a lake, but that doesn't really seem like the kind of thing to hang a business model on.

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"So I've crunched the numbers, and if our average customer buys $3 worth of ice a year, that means the government is going to bring back debtors prisons just for us."

But believe it or not, fridges didn't always exist. In the bad old days, ice used to be dug out of crazy, distant places like New England and shipped around the world, where people would jam it up on their food to prevent it from spoiling. Because that was apparently easier than simply inventing refrigeration.

Even when artificial refrigeration was finally invented, for a long time, it involved big heavy, frighteningly poisonous equipment, which wasn't the kind of thing people wanted to keep in their houses. Ice then had to be made at local ice plants, where people would visit to pick up ice. These ice houses, needing to obviously be relatively close to people's homes, became the forerunners of the first convenience stores. Indeed, 7-Eleven got its start when some guy who worked at an ice dock started making a few extra bucks on the side, selling milk and bread. From there it was a quick step on to drinks, snacks, and other delicious treats.

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Like gasoline.

#4. Sweet Frozen Beverages

Only one species on the planet has mastered Slurpee technology, and it should come as no surprise that it's the same one currently on top of the food chain and complaining on the Internet about things. Humanity has Got It Going On, and the Slurpee drink (and its various counterparts) are among the brightest of stars in our firmament of accomplishments.

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Take a hike, penicillin.

And to think that it all came about as a happy accident. In the 1950s some guy wanted to sell soda, but, lacking a soda fountain, he started keeping bottles of soda in the freezer. Because cold's cold, right? They froze, because it turns out that cold isn't cold at all, and when he tried serving this to his customers with his fingers all sorts of crossed, he was surprised to find that the teens of the 50's loved it.

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"We're digging this boss treat, Daddy-O. Hot rod sock hop heavy petting."

Can you imagine a world without Slurpee drinks? Can you imagine how dark it would be every day? You know those photos you sometimes see from the early days of photography, where the colors are all washed out and people's eyes are blacked out? That wasn't a visual artifact. That's what a life without Slurpee drinks is like.

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