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Why so negative?
29 September 2004 - Los Angeles Times

Why is Steve Lopez so negative about change? Was he this negative when gas stations stopped filling his tank for him and went self-serve? Was he this negative when pumps started having credit card readers so he no longer had to go inside? Differentiation is the hallmark of a free market, and while some stores like Walmart have chosen to offer supremely low prices, others like the Albertson’s he visited have chosen to "slay the beast with better service." Obviously, it’ll take a while for the stores to get just the right mix of personnel serving hot cross buns and manning the checkout lanes, but they’re getting there, and there are always (thanks to free-market competition) alternatives - Trader Joe’s has some of the best service I’ve encountered.

Lopez and the union member he spoke with think it’s all about padding profits, but this betrays a lack of knowledge about how competition works. The losses the major grocery chains took during the recent strike should have shown everyone how thin operating margins are for these chains. Knowing as they do that they’re losing customers daily to competitors with lower prices, does anyone really think that the cost savings from using automated checkers will go right to the companies’ bottom lines? More likely, those savings will be passed on to the customers in the form of lower prices, so they can remain more competitive with Walmart and the bulk discounters.

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