With the rise of app-laden smartphones like the iPhone and Google's Android OS, now on T-Mobile's G1, many penny-pinching shoppers have downloaded barcode scanning applications onto their mobile devices. These apps allow consumers to compare the prices of merchandise on a store's shelf to competing stores in the area just by taking pictures with their smartphone's camera. The prices are instantly retrieved and displayed on the mobile phone so consumers can know before they buy if they're getting a good deal.
Although consumers may be catching on to this barcode-scanning trend, some stores are still in the dark. For example, a Target store in Michigan recently requested a shopper to stop scanning merchandise, saying it went against store policy. The customer reported the event to the application's makers, Big in Japan, whose app Shop Savvy is a popular download for Android handsets.
Big in Japan called the Target store in question and spoke to the manager, who indicated that she was not aware of the policy. We also contacted Target's corporate headquarters to confirm Target's policy, or lack thereof, but we first had to explain the application to the company representative. They had never heard of such a thing before! (As it turns out, Target has no policy whatsoever on barcode scanning their merchandise.)
The same customer also noted they had visited Sam's Club, where they demonstrated the application to a store employee who seemed "confounded that such technology even existed," wrote the user.
Instant Price Match Is Retail's Future
Although this is just anecdotal evidence from one customer, it's entirely believable that without concrete store policies in place, you're going to encounter rogue employees here and there who have no idea what you're doing and will ask you to stop.
On the flip side, stores that do get hip to this trend may decide to implement store policies that ban scanning, once they realize that customers could discover their high prices. A post on AdLab for example, a blog about advertising and marketing, suggests retailers do just that. They also recommend retailers should consider investing in a a cell phone jammer. They even provide a "No iPhones on Premises" sign for printout.
That doesn't seem to be a very proactive way of dealing with the technology. In fact, it reminds us of how both the music and movie industry attempted to quash the pirating of songs and films: they just tried to make it stop. Instead of going a route destined for failure and trying to shut down barcode scanning altogether, retailers could choose to embrace the trend. They could offer easy-to-find barcodes on their promotional items with signage encouraging customers to compare the price instantly with other stores in the area. They could make barcode scanning the new advertising circular.
Hopefully, stories like those of the Shop Savvy customer will remain isolated incidents and no other store employees will bother customers looking to save money. If you've used barcode scanning applications and have experiences to share, please let us know in the comments.