Friday, June 23, 2006

Bar codes let shoppers compare prices on cell phones

Bar codes let shoppers compare prices on cell phones
12 June 2006
DSN Retailing Today
By Doug Desjardins

Nationwide RT Report's

Bar codes have been relegated to tracking prices and inventory since they went mainstream 30 years ago but now cell phones are putting them to use in a new way.
High-tech companies are hoping to get shoppers in the habit of using their cell phones to scan bar codes and go online for things like coupons and price comparisons.
The technology is relatively new in the United States but it's attracting attention from several players who want to test its potential, including Scanbuy, NeoMedia and cell phone giant Nokia. At a recent ACNielsen consumer conference, Microsoft technology expert Tom Litchford explained one way the technology is currently used in stores.
"You can take a picture of a bar code with your cell phone then download it to, where they'll identify the product and give you their price so you can make a comparison," said Litchford.
That's an application Scanbuy offers shoppers who download its Scanbuy Shopper service to their cell phones. Others like NeoMedia, which plans to introduce its PaperClick platform in the United States this fall, also see it as a way to access exclusive online coupons and links to ads. And later this summer, Nokia will jump into the fray when it introduces two new camera phones with built-in bar code readers.
Other companies see the potential for using bar codes as a branding tool. Seattle-based Pacarc signed a deal in May with a Japanese firm to sell custom-designed bar codes to suppliers and retailers.
"We're seeing a remarkable change in how bar codes are used," said Pacarc co-founder James Allard. "That trend and the growing prevalence of self-scan technology leads us to believe there's a growing interest in the brand-ability of the bar code itself."
And a recent report from research firm M.Metrics estimates that 15% of cell phone users accessed the Web using their phones last month, showing there's a built-in base of consumers ready to go mobile while they shop.
But there are drawbacks. Many bar codes still can't be read by any of the existing readers, making scanning a hit-or-miss process that can burn cell phone minutes. And, like all new technologies, there's no telling whether the payoff will be enough to get consumers into the habit of using it.
"I think it's a technology in search of an application," said Retail Management Consultants president George Whalin. "At this point, I don't see consumers begging for it or retailers willing to spend money on it." Whalin also doubts that retailers will like the idea of shoppers doing price comparisons online while they're in stores.


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