NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

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

Emek Basker

NBER Working Paper No. 17825
Issued in February 2012
NBER Program(s):   IO   PR

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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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w17825

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