Thursday, April 12, 2007

Chatting in line

What would be the welfare gains if we banned customers from talking to the sales clerks, and vice versa? I find that at least once a week I am frustrated, waiting in line, while the customers and sales clerks chat merrily. They don't seem to care. They don't know how truly important *I* am. They think their little conversation means something in the broader scheme of things.

What are they doing, negotiating over the price?

I have a modest proposal: let us ban such conversations, on penalty of death.

Of course zero conversation does not mean zero communication. The sales clerks will be given, by their employers, little signs to hold up, communicating the most frequently needed pieces of information. Customers might carry around little signs as well. Like "no, I won't give you my email address." On the whole I expect the transactions to become more efficient.

I fear only the second-order effect that fewer sales clerks will be hired.

Or if these conversations go away, might customers flee and Borders would close down altogether?


MikeK said...

What you've done here is restrict input and output states of the sales clerk experience. Once you've done that, it is much cheaper and more efficient to replace the live humans with mechanic/electronic replacements, further encroaching up low-skilled jobs.

You would still want to have manager, and there will be a button to call for one, to handle outlier conditions, just like you still want salespeople on the floor to help.

But machines can handly an exponentially increasing amount of input/output states, rising up the ladder of jobs they can perform much more cheaply than a human.

"Stop chatting in line or I will replace you with HAL!"

Eric H said...

"What are they doing, negotiating over the price?"

Hahaha - my own internal monologue name for this is "negotiating a mortgage" because it was the most complex transaction I could think of to be conducted between private citizens and retail employees.

HAL won't work, indeed it may make things worse:

Matia said...

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