There are a number of tools that attempt to take comparison shopping and price checking to a mobile platform. SnapTell for iPhone and ShopSavvy on Android, for example. I’ve not had the chance to use ShopSavvy, but have used SnapTell.
SnapTell makes use of image recognition like LaneHawk does for a checkout scenario, recognizing the image of the product, and then connecting results to a database to look up the product, generally with a price lookup online.
ShopSavvy, and the relatively new RedLaser for iPhone use image recognition on barcodes, but there are 2 small game changers here compared to SnapTell and other image recognition apps:
1. Users don’t have to hit a button to take a photo and then submit it. The solution shows a square to align the barcode within. When the unit has something it wants to capture, the square turns green. When it can capture, it just does so, vibrating briefly and showing the results. This saves users at least 2 button presses used on other image capture solutions. Doesn’t sound like much, but any removal of complexity is a win on the retail floor.
2. It’s much faster than the other solutions I’ve used to do the same thing. Images of barcodes are probably simpler to compare than a vast database of images of DVDs, CDs and books, but whatever the reason, it’s more responsive, meaning less standing in an aisle wondering what the solution is doing.
The database has had challenges with some products, but that’s not surprising, considering the number of products with barcodes in the world. It also does not appear to read GS 1 Databar codes – at least not coupons. There were also problems in lower light conditions, and shaky hands (too much caffeine) but in all fairness, in 90% of cases, a retail environment has adequate lighting and steadiness to allow RedLaser to work very, very well. As an optical scanner, RedLaser is very impressive.
What’s the real game changer here? The potential of using cameras to capture barcodes is not new, and certainly not nearly as fast or accurate as purpose built barcode scanners. Where potential exists is on how it barcode scanning can be leveraged on mobile.
All of the apps are understandably focused on price checking at this point, but how much can one save on a bottle of Purel, and how convenient is it to have to scan every item one picks up in a store to price check. The pennies may or may not be worth it. Given the incredibly small footprint of cameras these days, there could be real potential in using cameras for barcode scanning on mobile POS in a specialty low volume environment. The tiny readers on current handheld units are just as bad at reading the codes, so why not use low cost cameras on handheld mobile devices that could be used for other purposes in store, like documenting the condition of damaged goods at a site, or validating that corporately mandated displays and planagrams are in place? Using cameras may also one day allow retailers to leverage the personal phones staff or even their own customers to complete transactions, though that will take some improvements in the solution, and a significant culture shift.