In light of our earlier conversation about the meaningfulness of supermarket checkout work, Jaime Derringer at Design Milk points us to Tesco’s latest labor-saving innovation, recently launched in the Korean market:
British grocery chain Tesco connects with busy people through an innovative new concept, Home Plus that they launched in South Korea. They created billboards the subway stations that feature a range of products that customers can then select and scan using QR codes with their cell phones, only to have the selected groceries delivered later to their doorstep. The displays are set up just like aisles in any grocery store, so while you’re waiting for the train, you can get that pesky chore out of the way.
There are many takeaways from this concept, e.g.,
(a) This model works well in a dense, transit-dependent environment, which reinforces my view that dense, transit-dependent environments are good for the diffusion of ideas and business model innovation.
(b) Korean wages are lower than UK wages, yet Tesco launched this initiative in South Korea first. There are many reasons this might have been the case: the transit infrastructure in the UK, particularly in and around London, is antiquated; this could be a project of Tesco’s Korean subsidiary, which might enjoy a high level of autonomy; the risks of vandalism, etc., might be higher in the UK than the ROK. All very interesting.
(c) One gets the impression that existing labor market rigidities are enough to encourage the automation of semi-routine service work, i.e., we’re not in need of new labor market interventions to price large numbers of workers out of functions that some of our interlocutors consider less than sufficiently fulfilling.