March 22nd, 2013

scan-in-the-aisles comes to the US ... via your smartphone and Wal-Mart

I've posted before about Albert Heijn's self-scan system: get a cart, it has a scanner, you scan stuff as you pick it out, and checkout is a matter of the scanner talking to the pay kiosk and you're on your way. I believe Tesco's US venture tried to impose a form of this, and a couple midwestern, Ahold (a Dutch company) owned grocery chains are also setting it up.

I did _not_ realize that Wal-Mart was also rolling out a version of this called Scan and Go.

http://www.tulsaworld.com/business/article.aspx?subjectid=52&articleid=20130322_52_E1_ULNSam92941

The win here is correctly identified by the reviewer: a dramatic reduction in wait time in line.

"Getting the hang of Scan & Go can take a few minutes, and it's not faster than simply self-scanning two or three items. Beyond that, Scan & Go works surprisingly well. Sure, it takes more effort than simply letting a checkout person do everything for you, but it can make shopping seem faster because the checkout phase is greatly speeded up."

The win for WalMart is clear: they don't have to buy a bunch of scanners, because customers use their own phones; they just have to supply an app, and they've chosen to do so in their existing app and requiring an account, thus accomplishing multiple goals: target ads at the right eyeballs, establish a relationship, reduce the bar to future online shopping by the in-store customer, etc.

You might think, yeah, but WalMart's customers and smartphones? Well, it is apparently not a problem. Which says a whole lot about smart phone penetration in the US market.

I'm working on a prediction about the future of queuing: I think it's going to go away, sort of. With high-touch retail (Nordstrom's, Apple stores), when you get a sales critter's attention, they make sure they get money from you before you have a chance to change your mind by following you around with the point of sale system (an iPad in both cases). With guaranteed repeat customers (grocery stores), you teach the customer how to do the checkout work and make sure it doesn't happen in a line context, because waiting for an amateur to scan all their stuff is excruciatingly painful. Last November, we experienced an early phase of the hotel-checkin-while-sitting-on-a-couch at BLT -- things were a little screwed up so we had to switch to the regular desk, but at least we weren't stuck in a line at the main desk at Contemporary, which can be very painful.

RHI Disney will be replacing FastPass with some sort of reservation system.

I think queuing is going away.

Bloomberg article on the state of the economy, debt-to-GDP, kicking R&R while down, etc.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-03-22/economists-see-no-crisis-with-u-s-debt-as-economy-gains.html

Just a few short years ago, Reinhart and Rogoff were being quoted everywhere by Very Serious People. I, being a complete sap, bought their book on the kindle and found it unreadable and their methodology so risible that for a while I thought maybe we were all being punked. But no, it's the kind of thing that makes sense if you're Stupid, and believe a database cobbled together out of thousands (<- An Exaggeration) of years worth of "data" and then acting like that is somehow like a modern data series. You _can_ do this, if you are super careful and suspicious and have multiple streams of evidence, none of which they were or had. That's called climate science. Which the people who believed in R&R are almost universally contemptuous of. (<- I do not want to hear about my grammar.)

Since we're collectively recovering from stupid-itis, brought on by a severe case of the willies, itself a result from blunt trauma to our economy, in turn the result of drunken financial shenanigans, R&R aren't necessarily being quoted so favorably everywhere and, more recently, people like Krugman have taken to laughing at them and pointing. Which is totally justified, given what they and their assorted followers have said about Krugman in the past.

But I'm not sure I really expected a piece like this to show up at Bloomberg: essentially, paragraph after paragraph of Wrong Wrong Wrong Wrong You Guys Were So Fucking Wrong and Wow You Should Feel Stupid. Basically, kicking them while unconscious.

It's fun to read. Well, for me anyway. Especially this bit:

"Rogoff declined to comment for this story, and Reinhart didn’t respond to e-mails or telephone requests."

No doubt.

ETA: In only tangentially related commentary, I just learned that the original (?) or at any rate earlier Operation Twist happened under Kennedy. I'm sure everyone else already knew this; I can be a bit slow sometimes.

The European Central Bank has a game called Economia (with the E spelled like on the Euro symbol)

You can play it on the web here:

http://www.ecb.europa.eu/ecb/educational/economia/html/index.en.html

Or you can get the iOS version to play on your phone or iPad. You get one tool: the interest rate. Which is kinda stupid, in a way, because they are pretending that all other policy, including open market operations, are unavailable. *shrug* "Events" can happen (oil crisis, severe weather, new technology reducing dependence on oil, etc.) more or less outside your control and other events seem to occur as a result of your actions (stock market boom/crash, housing crash, etc.).

If you're wondering, how'd'ya find out about that, hunh? Well, the answer should be obvious: I searched for a central banking game.

I've been in the mood for a new game lately; I'm also going to try Ticket to Ride.

ETA still more: An excellent review of Economia here: http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2011/11/18/372102/economia-the-game-of-terrible-monetary-policy-lessons/

I can't speak to the formula he offers, but the verbal description of the game's mechanics is exactly correct, as is his assessment that it accurately reflects the behavior of the ECB. Of course, the problem is this is exactly the strategy you land on when you only let yourself have the one tool (Bank Rate, interest rate, discount rate, whatever you call it).

ETA: Schmoop has a text game where you get to be the Fed and make decisions. It's a multiple choice, narrative quiz and basically you get to be Volcker. Sort of. It's nice that they recognize the three major categories of action you can take at the Fed: adjusting the discount rate, open market operations (buying and selling securities) and adjusting the reserve requirement.

http://www.shmoop.com/money-banking/game.html

ETAYA: This looks like an RPG for bankers:

http://www.libow.lv/en_banking_game/

Bizarrely BofE centric.

The Fed actually has a bunch of games but to the extent you can play any of them online they are all remarkably horrible. If you find a fun one, let me know.

Want an example? Prepare to be offended:

http://www.clevelandfed.org/learning_center/online_activities/barter_island/index.cfm

This one is like a weaker version of Economia:

http://www.frbsf.org/education/activities/chairman/