Are Apps Killing Jobs?

That’s the issue recently raised in the Wall Street Journal:

Personal computing and the Internet have been pecking away at the labor landscape for decades, Appiconundermining demand for everyone from travel agents to call-center workers while creating jobs in other fields. The mobile-device boom, which is putting a camera, touch screen, and a high-speed Internet connection in more and more pockets and purses, is giving businesses a new way to shift work from employees to customers.

Retail chains including Stop & Shop, owned by Ahold NVof the Netherlands, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are both enabling self-checkout apps in some U.S. stores that let customers use their cameras to scan items as they put them in their shopping carts. Both retailers said they were seeking to give customers an alternative way to shop. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman, Ashley Hardie, said there could be opportunities to redistribute jobs in its stores as more shoppers use the app. . . .

“If a retailer is all about passing operating costs on to the consumer, you’ll probably see, yes, a reduction in labor,” said Todd Morris, Catalina[ Marketing]’s head of mobile. “If a retailer’s strategy is a better, more pleasant shopping experience, you might see an equal cost of labor but kiosks or roaming store associates.”

The full story is here (subscription required).  But as the story itself suggests, apps (and digital technology in general) need not be job killers.  It is how companies choose to use the apps that determines the impact on employment.

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