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

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Abstract

Barcode scanners were introduced in the 1970s as a way to reduce labor costs in stores, particularly at checkout. This paper is the first to estimate their effect on productivity. 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, with a larger effect in stores carrying more packaged products likely to bear barcodes. Setup costs significantly offset the short-run productivity effect.

Suggested Citation

  • Emek Basker, 2011. "Raising the Barcode Scanner: Technology and Productivity in the Retail Sector," Working Papers 1101, Department of Economics, University of Missouri, revised 28 May 2011.
  • Handle: RePEc:umc:wpaper:1101
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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. Horst Raff & Nicolas Schmitt, 2011. "Manufacturers and Retailers in the Global Economy," CESifo Working Paper Series 3508, CESifo Group Munich.
    5. Georg Graetz & Guy Michaels, 2018. "Robots at Work," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 100(5), pages 753-768, December.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    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.
    18. 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.

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    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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