How vast mega-stores emerged with the help of a design originally drawn in the sand in 1948 by Joseph Woodland as he sat on a Florida beach, observing the furrows left behind, an idea came to him which would – eventually – become the barcode. This now ubiquitous stamp, found on virtually every product, was designed to make it easier for retailers to automate the process of recording sales. But, as Tim Harford explains, its impact would prove to be far greater than that. The barcode changed the balance of power between large and small retailers.

(Image: Barcode with red laser line, Credit: Jamie Cross/Shutterstock)

Release date:

Available now

9 minutes

Last on

Tue 13 Dec 2016 23:50 GMT
BBC World Service Americas and the Caribbean

Sources and related links

Guru Madhavan - Think Like an Engineer (London: OneWorld) 2015

Stephen A. Brown - Revolution at the Checkout Counter (London: Harvard University Press, 1997)

Alistair Milne - The Rise and Success of the Barcode: some lessons for Financial Services (Loughborough University Working Paper, Feb 2013)

Thomas J. Holmes - “Bar Codes Lead to Frequent Deliveries and Superstores” The RAND Journal of Economics Vol. 32, No. 4 (Winter 2001)

Emek Basker - “The Causes and Consequences of Wal-Mart’s Growth” Journal of Economic Perspectives Vol 21, No. 3 (Summer 2007)

David Warsh - “Big Box Ecology” Economic Principals (19 Feb 2006)

Emek Basker and Van H. Pham - “Putting a Smiley Face on the Dragon: Wal-Mart as Catalyst to U.S.-China Trade” University of Missouri-Columbia Working Paper (July 2005)