Bar Codes Go Home
We're all familiar with the applications for bar code technology in traditional retail and industrial settings. But, Web bar codes and home bar code scanning may dramatically expand the markets and opportunities to sell this technology.
In today's retail chains and grocery stores, it's hard to imagine a checkout without a bar code scanner. Yet, it was less than 20 years ago that the first universal product code (UPC) symbols were introduced. The bar code served a great purpose. It contained information about the product, manufacturer, and price among other things. But, despite the UPC's usefulness, consumers originally were wary of this technology. Their biggest concern was that the bar code would represent the wrong price. Over time, these fears lessened and plenty of VARs and integrators built businesses selling bar code solutions.
Bar Code Scanners Get Personalized
Today's home (or personal) bar code scanners and Web bar codes face a similar customer acceptance battle. A few years ago, Symbol Technologies (Holtsville, NY) introduced its CS line of bar code scanners. The company's initial target markets, for this home scanner line, were consumers ordering groceries or prescriptions online. The consumer could use the CS scanner (smaller than a computer mouse) to scan the bar codes of items that needed to be replenished. This data could then be uploaded to the computer and used for online ordering at the Web grocery or pharmacy site. Since Symbol's product introduction, other players have entered the market. Last fall at the Frontline Solutions Expo 2000 (Chicago), Intermec Technologies (Everett, WA) and Qode (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) unveiled the Qoder scanner. The most notable difference between the Symbol and Intermec products is the bar code reading technology. Symbol's CS line uses laser technology to read the bar codes, while Intermec's Qode uses LED (light emitting diode) technology to do the same.
Connect To The Web With Bar Codes
While most VARs and integrators recognize the Symbol and Intermec brand, another company has caught consumers' attention with personal bar code scanners. Digital:Conver-gence (Dallas) introduced its :CueCat scanners last fall. The :CueCat reads traditional bar codes, as well as proprietary "cue" bar codes. When scanned, these cue codes automatically direct a consumer to a Web link. Digital:Convergence has committed to providing the public 10 million :CueCat scanners for free. RadioShack is one of the primary sites where consumers can obtain a free scanner kit. The general public first saw the cue codes in the September 2000 issue of Parade. Every week, Parade's 37 million readers are directed to additional Web content through a cue code. In addition, some Fortune 500 companies are using cue codes in their advertisements, including: Delta Airlines, Ford, NASDAQ, and UPS. These advertisement codes direct consumers to Web links containing product information.
Web Code Competition Heats Up
Symbol recognized that the personal bar code scanning market would continue to expand to even more applications. Last summer, Symbol, Motorola, Connect Things (an affiliate of Ericsson), and AirClic pooled $500 million. This money was used to start a new company focused on e-commerce growth through Web codes (printed bar codes that contain Web link information).
Web Codes' Impact On The Channel
But, what does all this mean for VARs and integrators? First, it will take some time for personal bar code scanners to reach a greater acceptance level in the market. (And, these scanners may come in different formats such as clip-on scanners for cell phones, personal digital assistants, remote controls, key chains, etc.)
But, there are many visible benefits for all of the parties involved. For consumers, Web bar codes save time in obtaining information or placing product orders. For retail companies, Web bar codes can drive more traffic to their sites and even to stores (through links with store location directions). Also, most personal bar code scanning systems require consumers to enter in personal information. So, e-tail sites will be able to capture information about customers when they use a scanner to communicate with the site.
There's also a lot of opportunity for VARs and integrators with Web bar codes. Channel members can sell and integrate solutions that enable retailers, publishing companies, and pharmacies to offer bar code-based e-commerce to consumers. So, Web bar codes may seem a little space age at the moment. But, this technology may come home sooner than you think.Questions about this article? E-mail the author at ShannonL@corrypub.com.