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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.

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  • Emek Basker, 2012. "Raising the Barcode Scanner: Technology and Productivity in the Retail Sector," NBER Working Papers 17825, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17825
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    25. Emek Basker & Shawn Klimek & Pham Hoang Van, 2012. "Supersize It: The Growth of Retail Chains and the Rise of the “Big‐Box” Store," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 21(3), pages 541-582, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Florin Maican & Matilda Orth, 2017. "Productivity Dynamics and the Role of ‘Big-Box’ Entrants in Retailing," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 65(2), pages 397-438, June.
    2. Soetevent, Adriaan R. & Bružikas, Tadas, 2018. "The impact of process innovation on prices: Evidence from automated fuel retailing in The Netherlands," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 181-196.
    3. Morikawa, Masayuki, 2019. "Innovation in the service sector and the role of patents and trade secrets: Evidence from Japanese firms," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 43-51.
    4. Gray, Rowena & Montresor, Giulia & Wright, Greg C., 2020. "Processing immigration shocks: Firm responses on the innovation margin," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 126(C).
    5. Horst Raff & Nicolas Schmitt, 2016. "Manufacturers and retailers in the global economy," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 49(2), pages 685-706, May.
    6. Georg Graetz & Guy Michaels, 2018. "Robots at Work," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 100(5), pages 753-768, December.
    7. 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.
    8. Masayuki Morikawa, 2014. "Innovation in the Service Sector and the Role of Patents and Trade Secrets," CAMA Working Papers 2014-48, Centre for Applied Macroeconomic Analysis, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.
    9. 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.
    10. 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.
    11. Pozzi, Andrea & Schivardi, Fabiano, 2015. "Entry Regulation in Retail Markets," CEPR Discussion Papers 10836, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    12. 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.
    13. Daniel Czarnievicz & Leandro Zipitría, 2018. "Concentración y precios en cinco mercados minoristas," Documentos de Trabajo (working papers) 0618, Department of Economics - dECON.
    14. Buss, Philipp & Peukert, Christian, 2015. "R&D outsourcing and intellectual property infringement," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 44(4), pages 977-989.
    15. Emek Basker, 2015. "Change at the Checkout: Tracing the Impact of a Process Innovation," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 63(2), pages 339-370, June.
    16. 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.
    17. Peter Mayerhofer & Peter Huber & Dieter Pennerstorfer, 2017. "Handel und Einzelhandel im Wiener Beschäftigungssystem. Arbeitsmarktrelevanz, Arbeitsplatzcharakteristika, absehbare Herausforderungen," WIFO Studies, WIFO, number 61951, December.
    18. Emek Basker & Shawn Klimek & Pham Hoang Van, 2012. "Supersize It: The Growth of Retail Chains and the Rise of the “Big‐Box” Store," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 21(3), pages 541-582, September.
    19. 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.
    20. 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.
    21. Cho, Seung Jin & Lee, Jun Yeong & Winters, John V., 2020. "COVID-19 Employment Status Impacts on Food Sector Workers," ISU General Staff Papers 202006080700001107, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D22 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Firm Behavior: Empirical Analysis
    • L81 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Retail and Wholesale Trade; e-Commerce
    • 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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