Sunday, September 7, 2008

Adoption of 2D Barcodes in Retail Industry

On June 26, 1974 at 8:01am, the first product with a bar code, a 10-pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum, was scanned at a check-out counter at a Marsh's supermarket in Troy, Ohio. This move has set the foundation for the next generation retailing which we experience today. Prior this significant initiative, barcodes were used towards the non-retail activities such as car labeling.

While the barcodes have served retail industry for the past three decades, people have started looking for alternative solutions that fits into the current digital era. There are debates on advanced technology solutions such as RFID as a replacement for barcodes. But till date the barcode seems to dominate due to its penetration and maturity.

As retailers are more conscious about the ROI, they seek solutions which can extend the capabilities of today’s barcode without investing huge sum of money. One of the key requirements is to store more information in the form of barcodes. People started to realize that 2D barcodes can be an answer to their above search.

So how these 2D barcodes differ from traditional 1D barcodes? As opposed the traditional row of black lines ( 1D barcode), 2D barcodes look like a grid and make use of a second, vertical dimension, allowing them to store more data.

About 18 month’s back I came up with the idea of using QR codes (a variant of 2D barcode) in the retail space. Till this time, the various forms of 2D barcodes were extensively used in industries such as automobile & electronics manufacturing and travel industry. Having this idea as a base, I developed the concept of mobile phone shopping using 2D barcodes and showcased it to several CXOs of leading global retail organizations. Whomever seen this solution admire this futuristic idea and confirm that this is an economically viable solution for next generation retailing. It is good to see that people have started to take the first step towards this direction through pilot projects.

Pressures due to poor economic climate and limited investments for new initiatives hold back retailers from investing money towards technologies such as RFID. At the same time, they are under pressure to improve their operational efficiency. As a result, efforts towards adoption of 2D bar codes in retail stores seem to be on the raise.

Sears, in conjunction with vendor ScanBuy, became the first U.S. retailer to begin a public trial that started in mid-December 2007 at a store in Marietta, Georgia.Sears Holdings recently completed its six-month trial and the project lead says results confirm the technology holds promise in the retailer's stores.

In the near future, 2D barcodes can be the total alternative for the traditional 1D barcodes. Right from suppliers to sales floor to point of sale, 2D barcodes can help retailers in improving operational efficiency and customer satisfaction. It will also considerably bring down the investment towards special hardware for scanning the barcodes. Once all the products are tagged with 2D barcodes, customers and store associates can scan the barcodes and access information through common devices such as mobile phones with integrated camera. The only key investment required from the retailers is the software that can be installed in the mobile phones.

There is no dount that 2D barcodes will replace the traditional 1D barcodes in a decade time.

I can assure that retailers can benefit from 2D barcodes in a big way by adopting right technology platform, standardized approach and a clear roadmap.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

"Mobile is the computer" - "Mobile is my store"

It has been a while since Sun has been saying "The Network is the Computer". But looking at the speed at which the mobile platforms are evolving people should start saying "The Mobile is the Computer".

The world is turning out to be more tech savvy and each and every individual would like to stay connected, irrespectice of the location of presence. This of course means that the physical presence is no more a barrier to stay in touch with people.

"Necessity is the mother of invention' - When the internet boom happened, everyone was getting the information they wanted at their desk. What next? The typical "more" factor of human has forced the technology advancement and has taken this to the next level where it starts deliveing things at your hand and not just at the desk. This is what we call "Information on the go".

Understanding the pottential, the technology players (hardware / software vendors and service providers) have started to develop innovative products and solutions that can fetch the information when you are on the move.

This great development can help the retail industry to move forward and both the retailers and their customers will start getting more value against what they spend.

From retailer's point of view, they need to enable each and every employee of their organization to stay informed (real-time or near-real-time) about any event related to their job. Similar way, retailers need to keep their customers informed to increase the chances of selling more.

While the retailers expand the channels beyond stores such as catalogues, e-commerce, etc., they need to understand that they are all still reactive or semi-reactive. Because they wait for the customers to walk into the store or log into their website to know about their offerings. Where as mobile solutions can make them more pro-active by reaching the customer directly.

For example if a customer visit an electronic retailer and get attracted by a new model laptop that costs $900, he still might want to wait till the price drops to $600. Today, the retailers have implemented this at e-commerce level where the alert regarding the price drop will reach the customer's e-mail. However, the customer need to long into his e-mail, to be aware of this. In this fast moving world, people have started to complain that they do not have time to log into 100 different websites or to check the promotion mails. Infact many times, the customers who have subscribed for the promotion mailers delete their mails with out reading it.

From the retailer's point of view, a high demand merchandise being out of stock at shelf means loss of sales / revenue generation opportunity. In the mobile scenario, if the shelf stock reaches the safety stock limit, the associates can be notified through their mobiles to replenish the item.

It is very evident that not all the employees working with retailers have access to computers and they can stay informed and be more productive with the "Mobile is the computer" factor.

But the factor "Mobile is my store" is applicable to both the store managers and the customers. From manager's view mobile keeps saying how his store is performing. For customers, mobile will enable the most easy way of shopping from both inside and outside shopping.
Simply speaking, extending the 'm-Commerce' and 'm-Office' concept and deploying solutions using the new technology can bring in substantial benefits to retailers and accelerate their ROI.

If you have any views / comments please share the same and also, feel free to write to me at