Don't Miss The Imager-Based Scanner Uptrend
Youâ€™ve heard that someday imager-based scanners would overtake laser scanners. Find out why itâ€™s about to happen and what opportunities this means for VARs.
When it comes to bar code scanning, there are some key advances in technology that point to a strong potential for an uptick in imager-based scanner sales within the next year. Feeling a bit skeptical? Four industry experts offer their insight regarding why you should believe this trend, and they also have some timely tips for selling imager-based scanners.
RSS, 2-D Bar Codes Driving Scanner Sales
"We've been hearing, '2-D, imager-based scanning technology is coming and will replace laser-based scanning,' for the past 10 years," says Mike Poldino, VP of marketing, Advanced Data Capture Division, Symbol Technologies, a Motorola Company. "Furthermore, looking at the current sales data doesn't indicate things are changing all that quickly. For example, according to a report from Venture Development Corporation [VDC], laser scanners account for approximately $840 million in sales annually, compared with 2-D, imager-based scanners, which account for only about $63 million."
According to Poldino and industry experts from Intermec, Janam, and PSC Inc., retailers, transportation and logistics companies, government agencies, and insurance companies have specific business needs that are best fulfilled with imager-based scanners, and advances in imagers are making them a more viable option every day. One need that's driving the adoption of this technology is RSS (reduced space symbology) bar codes. "RSS bar codes have traditionally been used only in niche retail applications for labeling prescription drugs, fruits, and vegetables," says Nick Tabet, general manager, handheld scanning, PSC Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Datalogic S.p.A. "Beginning in 2010, any item sold in retail can be labeled with RSS codes, per a recent GS1 [global standards organization dedicated to improving the efficiency and visibility of supply and demand chains] announcement." What's different about RSS now is that it will be used in the future (by 2010) to mark small items located near checkout registers and other items located throughout retail stores. "Many retailers will need new bar code scanners to accommodate RSS labels, which presents a good opportunity for VARs to sell imager-based scanners," says Tabet.
The benefits of 2-D bar codes are another reason enterprises need imager-based bar code scanners. "Many companies want to capture more information in smaller spaces, and traditional linear bar codes are not always appropriate," says Tracy Hillstrom, group manager, data capture systems, Intermec Inc. "For example, a manufacturer may want to track lot numbers and serial numbers on its products, and rather than using a license plate [i.e. a special code that points to a centralized database], it's often less costly to use 2-D bar codes."
A Consultative Approach, Custom Apps Are Keys To Scanner Sales Success
Even if your customers already use imager-based bar code scanners, it doesn't mean they'll be able to read RSS codes and 2-D bar codes. According to Harry B. Lerner, co-CEO of Janam Technologies LLC, you should find out whether you can upgrade your customer's scanners rather than assuming they can't use their legacy scanners. "If a company buys 1,000 scanning mobile computers for $1,200 each and six months later decides it needs to read 2-D bar codes, it may achieve its goal by upgrading its scanner software for $200 per device, rather than buying 1,000 brand-new $1,500 scanning mobile computers."
Lerner advises VARs to think about applications that can be added to imager-based bar code scanners. "Consider a retailer that equips its CSRs [customer service reps] with rugged handheld devices that feature integrated imagers," he says. "A customer may ask the CSR whether a particular shirt is available in navy blue and in a large size. The CSR can scan a similar item and instantly see what's available in the back room. After confirming the shirt is available, the CSR can press a button and have it brought to the checkout counter, without ever leaving the customer's side." Bar code scanners have the potential to be part of interactive customer relationship management solutions.
There are a myriad of custom applications VARs can add to imager-based bar code scanner sales. "In retail, positive ID applications are useful," says PSC Inc.'s Tabet. "For example, using a PDF-417 [a stacked, linear bar code symbology] imager, a retailer that sells tobacco products can scan the label on the back of a customer's driver's license. It's also possible to scan an image of the front of the driver's license and store that information with the transaction information as proof that the clerk checked the customer's ID at the time of purchase." Liquor stores, bars/clubs, and pharmacies could also use this application.
Peripherals, Managed Services Complement Scanner Sales
Intermec's Hillstrom offers a few additional recommendations regarding how VARs can increase their bar code scanning revenue. "VARs need to understand their customers' work environments, including the lighting conditions, temperature, and bar code quality before recommending bar code scanning solutions. For example, if a customer stores some bar-coded pallets indoors and others outdoors, the VAR should make sure the outdoor pallets are protected from direct sunlight and use nonreflective bar code labels for the outdoor pallets." Also, selecting bar code scanners that can be configured for indoor/outdoor environments helps ensure optimal scanning performance. If a customer uses bar code scanners in a refrigerator/freezer environment, VARs can sell heated scanner holsters to keep the scanner displays from becoming fogged up when going from a cold environment to a room-temperature environment.
As bar code scanners become more critical components of mobile computing solutions, device management will become more important. Motorola's Poldino recommends VARs use remote scanning management (RSM) applications as part of a managed services contract. "RSM software can be used to retrieve asset tracking information such as serial numbers and firmware versions," he says. "This application makes it much easier and more efficient to stage scanners for rollouts or change the current configuration or firmware being used in the field. By updating the software once, the VAR can configure the software to automatically configure all devices tied to the network without having to pull each device out of production and upgrade the software."
Tabet advises VARs to build their solutions with industry standards in mind. For example, ARTS (Association for Retail Technology Standards) defines image capture, POS (point of sale) integration, and data transmission and storage standards at its Web site (www.arts.org). Additionally, VARs should be familiar with GS1's bar code symbology standards. By heeding the experts' advice and taking a consultative approach to selling imager-based bar code scanners, VARs can realize healthy profit margins right now. The only major obstacle holding you back is too much skepticism.