Posted by: mikepearsonnz | April 20, 2010

Opening up the barcode for the consumer

Smartphone barcode scanningSmartphones empower the consumer

Almost every item we buy from a store has a barcode on it.  Since the adoption of barcodes over 25 years ago, retailers and consumers have benefited by over US$17 billion (study).   It has primarily benefited the supplier and retailer; indirectly the consumer has benefited from lower prices at the checkout scanner.

Smartphone technology now offers the consumer the opportunity to gain new value from the barcode.   A growing number of apps, such as Pic2Shop, allow the consumer to quickly scan the barcode of a product with their smartphone camera.  Using this globally unique identifier, the smartphone consumer can access product information in real-time, before making their purchasing decision.

Consumer implications

The implications of this are huge!  Here are some examples to get you thinking:

  • For the retailer – the consumer can compare pricing with online retailers.  If you have a physical stores, the consumer’s smartphone GPS will allow them to compare pricing locally, say within a 1km radius.
  • For the supplier – the consumer would like to know factual information about your product.  For example, they may want to know if your food product contains traces of peanut, if they have an allergy.  There will also be incentives to add other information which affect consumer purchasing decisions, such as “minimal packaging”  or “no animals harmed”.  How will you cope with information provided about your product, by third parties who do not agree with your business methods, e.g. “produced using exploited workers”?
  • For government – governments often act as a trusted third party, verifying information such as product safety standards.  Suppliers will need you to provide this information online, attached to their products.  How long will it take to modify your systems to allow this?
  • For consumer interest groups – product and customer reviews play a part in any purchasing decision.  Cynical consumers are less likely to trust reviews provided directly by suppliers / retailers.   How will you link your information so it is accessible when the consumer searches for product information?

GS1 barcodes

In New Zealand / Australia,  most of our products use a barcode allocated by an international not-for-profit association called GS1.

The GS1 system of standards (including barcodes) is the most widely-used supply-chain standards system in the world (Wikipedia).  The GS1 vision is a world where things and related information move efficiently and securely for the benefit of businesses and improvement of people’s lives.  They want to enable communities to develop and implement global standards with the tools, trust and confidence needed.  (GS1 Vision)

GS1 have a service called GS1Net.  It allows suppliers to upload information into a global product registry.  The GS1Net system was designed before smartphones were on the market; or the concept of Open Data (Wikipedia).  Its current terms and conditions are wrapped around a subscriber-based supplier/retailer business model.

The key to greater value

Smartphones are still not mass market, yet a recent US survey found that over 1 in 4 smartphone owners already want to be able to scan barcodes (survey).

I believe the key to this future is opening up the barcode — the global product ID  that can link factual and subjective attributes about the same object.

Business needs to help bring this concept to fruition.  If you are a member of GS1, then I encourage you to adopt a new supplier/retailer/consumer open data ecosystem, using GS1Net as a starting point.


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