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American Economic Journal: Applied Economics: Vol. 4 No. 3 (July 2012)

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

Article Citation

Basker, Emek. 2012. "Raising the Barcode Scanner: Technology and Productivity in the Retail Sector." American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 4(3): 1-27.

DOI: 10.1257/app.4.3.1

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 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. (JEL J24, L24, L81, O33)

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Authors

Basker, Emek (U MO)

JEL Classifications

J24: Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
L24: Contracting Out; Joint Ventures; Technology Licensing
L81: Retail and Wholesale Trade; e-Commerce
O33: Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes

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