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Tacit Knowledge

My wife and I really enjoy food shopping, so perhaps we are too serious about certain aspects of that experience. It occurs to me that someone needs to invent a deli counter meat and cheese slicer that also contains a scale on the same machine. The lines at the deli counter when we go are usually astonishingly long by today’s standards (in excess of 10-15 minutes), so the economist in me is shocked that supermarket entrepreneurs have not figured out a way to expedite things a little bit. Some supermarkets will pre-cut their popular meats and cheeses, but I can understand not doing that from a freshness perspective. For those that do not, combining the scale and deli slicer would save a good deal of time for the deli worker in going back and forth to the scale from the slicer. I cannot imagine this as being high technology, so I wonder why I have yet to see such a machine?


  • Could it be that it has been tried and failed the cost-benefit test?

  • Could it be that no one has thought of this?

  • Could it be that other innovations are superior?

  • Could it be that stores are consciously hoping to keep customers in the store longer? For example, my wife and I take a number from the deli counter, and usually browse the nearby food selections while waiting. In the last two trips, I ended up buying an $8 bottle of wine which was nearby (I rarely buy wine) and some gourmet bread from the nearby bakery (I normally would be content with 99 cent white bread). Is everyone as impulsive in a supermarket as I am?

  • Could it be that individual deli workers do not have any incentive to innovate, or that there are not clear mechanisms to communicate these ideas to their managers?

Of course I lean toward the latter explanation.

2 Responses to “Tacit Knowledge”

  1. Morgan says:

    My guess is that nothing about running a supermarket is left to chance or not put under a microscope. I’m sure there is a good reason for this. Your next to last explanation makes good sense to me.

    Also, how many times have you purchased something from the deli and the weight is “just a little bit over”. Add up all those little bits and I bet you get a lot of extra cheese and meat sold. Customers may not put up with being oversold like this if they know the machines can cut exact weights. Just a thought.

  2. wintercow20 says:

    Part of me gets excited when they sell me a little more meat and cheese. I am too embarrassed to ask for “a little more than a half-pound” so they take care of that for me!

    And it has been pretty amazing just how much supermarkets have improved during my adult life – so I tend to really agree with your assessment.

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