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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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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Barcode scanners; Retail; Supermarkets; Technology; Productivity;
    All these keywords.

    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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