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09 April 2012

Are We Witnessing Decommodification?

Commodification, according to Sociological Images, is "the process by which something that is not bought and sold becomes something that is." It's an essential aspect of capitalism. A listener response on APM's Marketplace recently highlighted at least one way in which a once-commodified service has now become decommodified. There was a time in the not so distant past when having a boy bag one's groceries was a direct exchange, a service for tip. The gratuity based relationship was then subsumed to the grocer himself, paying the bagger a wage and prohibiting tips. Now, groceries are offering elective self-checkout lanes, where customers are required to bag their own items. (It turns out, these self-checkout lanes are probably highly inefficient and, on average, slower than the traditional checkout lanes.) Presumably, there is a cost savings for the grocer who only needs to pay one rep to supervise four checkout stations . I'm wondering where else we might see products and services decommodified in this way, with a direct pawning-off of labor to the consumer. One place that I have noted is on the interwebs. Hulu frequently asks users/viewers to answer marketing research questions like "Is this ad relevant to you?" or, as I saw this morning, what my political leanings were. Inconsistently, I prefer the self-checkout lane but absolutely refuse to answer the targeted advertising queries.

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