Distinguish Yourself With Area Imagers
Use area imager-based bar code scanners to open the door for custom applications.
When it comes to selling bar code scanners, one of the biggest pitfalls many AIDC (automatic identification and data collection) VARs fall into is not challenging their customers’ beliefs about these devices. “Many end users believe bar code scanners are like screwdrivers, and they just want the cheapest ones,” says John Izzo, product manager of the Imaging Systems SBU (strategic business unit) Division at Hand Held Products. But, VARs need to educate their customers about the important role bar code scanners play in their data capture success. Specifically, VARs should consider all of the benefits of area-based bar code scanners and understand all of the add-on applications they can provide, which turn a low-margin product sale into a healthy-margin solution sale. Four industry experts weigh in on the advances in area imager technology and offer advice on how you can capitalize on this trend.
New Imaging Technology Opens The Door For Custom Apps
Area imaging technology has come a long way in the past three years. Not only has the cost come down significantly, but area image scanners have improved in several ways. “Imagers are using new sensors that enable higher resolution and longer read ranges,” says Tracy Hillstrom, group manager of data capture systems at Intermec. “Additional advancements with imager-based bar code scanners include multistop and autofocus functionality. You used to have to focus imagers on one spot, but many imagers now allow you to zoom in on an object and change the focal position.” These features, in addition to faster processors, allow VARs to add custom applications to their bar code scanning sales. Because imagers are a lot like digital cameras, there are a number of ways VARs can boost the value of an imager-based bar code scanner sale.
Direct store delivery drivers, couriers, and warehouse workers are three hot markets for custom imaging apps, according to Ron Caines, VP of marketing at Psion Teklogix. “A Schwan’s driver can use an area imager to take a photo of damaged food products,” says Caines. “The image can then be wirelessly transmitted to a claims department, and the driver can be credited and/or a replacement product can be shipped without having to call a customer service rep and explain the situation.” In this example, the VAR can provide an application that interfaces with Schwan’s back end order entry system. Also, the VAR can set up the customer with a wireless broadband subscription via a wireless carrier. Then, the VAR can configure the imager (with the help of third party software) to hold data in queue until a strong enough wireless signal is detected and the data can be transmitted. Dockworkers at warehouses and shipping yards can use area imagers to capture photos of damaged products and send text messages (e.g. “pallet crushed, photo attached”) to the supplier and/or a manager.
VARs can also provide custom apps to protect their customers against fraud. For example, every time one of your grocery store/convenient store (c-store) customers’ clients pays for merchandise with a credit card, an area imager could be used to capture an image of the front and back of the card. This data could be synchronized with the POS (point of sale) transaction and recalled at a later time to defend against a fraud claim. “The image would prove a card was presented as opposed to a card number being typed into the POS terminal,” says Nick Tabet, VP of retail POS scanning at PSC.
2-D Symbologies Create Additional Custom App Opportunities
Advancements in imaging-based scanners are making newer bar code symbologies, such as 2-D bar codes, a more attractive option to their 1-D counterparts. 2-D bar codes use small geometric shapes to represent data. The 2-D bar code stacks the shapes or uses a matrix to enable more information to be stored in the same space as a 1-D bar code. Unlike 1-D bar codes, 2-D bar codes require the scanner to read the code both horizontally and vertically, which laser bar code scanners are currently unable to do.
Couriers such as FedEx and USPS (United States Postal Service) use 2-D bar codes to reduce the number of bar codes on a package. “Previously, if a customer sent a certified letter and purchased insurance, the package required three bar codes,” says Caines. “By using 2-D bar codes and area imagers, all that information can be consolidated into a single bar code.”
There are several kinds of 2-D bar codes in use today, but PDF 417 is probably the most popular one. “Several states now use PDF 417 bar codes on driver’s licenses to include all the basic information on the card,” says Hand Held Products’ Izzo. “VARs can set up data capture solutions that read these 2-D labels and automatically populate a database instead of having to manually key in the customer’s information.” One example where this scenario would come in handy is for a c-store/liquor store/grocery store customer that sells alcohol and/or tobacco and needs to verify patrons are of legal age. By capturing the 2-D bar code info from a patron’s driver’s license, store clerks can better curtail the sale of alcohol or tobacco to minors. “This is much more effective than relying on the clerk’s memory that the customer’s ID was checked before selling the products,” says Tabet. “By capturing the driver’s license at the POS, end users can match the time of the scan to the sale and prove they are obeying the law. VARs could even configure the POS to not permit a tobacco/alcohol sale until a driver’s license was scanned.”
No VAR wants to fall into the commodity trap, where you have to barely make a profit just to win a sale against a competitor. Offering custom apps with your imager-based bar code scanner sales is one way you can differentiate yourself from your competitors. And just as important, it’s one way you can become your customer’s trusted advisor — aka long-term business partner.