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Raising the Barcode Scanner: Technology and Productivity in the Retail Sector

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  • Emek Basker

Abstract

Barcodes and barcode scanners transformed the grocery industry in the 1970s. I use store-level data from the 1972, 1977, and 1982 Census of Retail Trade, matched to data on store scanner installations, to estimate scanners’ effect on labor productivity. I find that early scanners increased a store’s labor productivity, on average, by approximately 4.5 percent in the first few years. The effect was larger in stores carrying more packaged products, consistent with the presence of network externalities. Short-run gains were small relative to fixed costs, suggesting that the impediment to widespread adoption of the new technology was profitability, not coordination problems.

Suggested Citation

  • Emek Basker, 2011. "Raising the Barcode Scanner: Technology and Productivity in the Retail Sector," Working Papers 11-16r, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau, revised Nov 2011.
  • Handle: RePEc:cen:wpaper:11-16r
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Horst Raff & Nicolas Schmitt, 2016. "Manufacturers and retailers in the global economy," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 49(2), pages 685-706, May.
    2. Brianna Cardiff-Hicks & Francine Lafontaine & Kathryn Shaw, 2015. "Do Large Modern Retailers Pay Premium Wages?," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 68(3), pages 633-665, May.
    3. Ali Hortaçsu & Chad Syverson, 2015. "The Ongoing Evolution of US Retail: A Format Tug-of-War," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 29(4), pages 89-112, Fall.
    4. Emek Basker, 2012. "Raising the Barcode Scanner: Technology and Productivity in the Retail Sector," NBER Chapters,in: Standards, Patents and Innovations National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Adriaan R. Soetevent & Tadas Bruzikas, 2017. "The Impact of Process Innovation on Prices: Evidence from Automated Fuel Retailing in The Netherlands," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 17-045/VII, Tinbergen Institute.
    6. Pozzi, Andrea & Schivardi, Fabiano, 2015. "Entry Regulation in Retail Markets," CEPR Discussion Papers 10836, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    7. Graetz, Georg & Michaels, Guy, 2015. "Robots at work," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 61155, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    8. Buss, Philipp & Peukert, Christian, 2015. "R&D outsourcing and intellectual property infringement," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 44(4), pages 977-989.
    9. Maican, Florin & Orth, Matilda, 2015. "A dynamic analysis of entry regulations and productivity in retail trade," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 67-80.
    10. Emek Basker & Lucia Foster & Shawn Klimek, 2017. "Customer-employee substitution: Evidence from gasoline stations," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 26(4), pages 876-896, December.
    11. Levy, Daniel, 2013. "Discussion of "Change at the Checkout: Tracing the Impact of a Process Innovation" by Emek Basker," MPRA Paper 52605, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    12. MORIKAWA Masayuki, 2014. "Innovation in the Service Sector and the Role of Patents and Trade Secrets," Discussion papers 14030, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).
    13. Mortenson, Michael J. & Doherty, Neil F. & Robinson, Stewart, 2015. "Operational research from Taylorism to Terabytes: A research agenda for the analytics age," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 241(3), pages 583-595.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Barcode scanners; Retail; Supermarkets; Technology; Productivity;

    JEL classification:

    • L81 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Retail and Wholesale Trade; e-Commerce
    • D22 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Firm Behavior: Empirical Analysis
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes

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