It used to be that walking around a store with a camera would result in odd looks at the very least, and potentially an invitation to visit the parking lot. With the ubiquity of cameras on mobile phones, every person in the store over 12 is probably toting a camera as part of their personal communication apparatus. With the increased availability of shopping apps, there is a good chance that those people are comparison shopping or gathering information while in stores.
There is an app for that, of course. In fact, there are a number of apps available that make it possible for consumers to scan items in stores with their mobile phone cameras to get information on products or to check prices elsewhere. I’ve discussed these apps before, but their increasing use makes them worth another look in a bit more detail.
There are various applications for the iPhone and Android platforms. These scanning apps have been available for a couple of years now, but with the increased processing power and improved cameras on recent phones, using the apps has become much more practical. In their early days, the cameras, the software and the processor working together took a few tries and a few seconds to get a good scan. 10 seconds is a short time to wait in line, but starts to get old waving a brick of metal and plastic at a barcode on a book, so the speed of a successful scan makes a huge difference. With the most recent iterations of these apps, they scan very quickly (and quietly), making the scanning option much more practical to the non-technical user.
What apps are in use? Here are the ones on my iPhone.
RedLaser – Acquired by eBay, RedLaser is a solid product scanning app. The app is free. The camera on the mobile phone is pointed at the barcode of a product, and the app will search the internet via Google for pricing at online stores. If the camera doesn’t capture for some reason, the barcode can be entered on a numeric keyboard as a backup. The app also checks eBay for used options. A list of the options is provided – all linked directly to the websites for online purchase. I have used this app to scan products with mixed results. Books, DVDs and toys work well. Consumer products from large CPGs don’t always work. These codes may show as Product of Kraft Foods Inc., or as a retailer specific item. Wine has worked from time to time as well. The challenge for Canadians is the the pricing results are often US based with no Canadian options. RedLaser will also keep a list of products scan, usable for a future shopping list. That list can also be emailed. One more nifty feature is that for food products, the app will provide nutrition facts via DailyBurn. For Canadians, this product is still mostly a novelty until Canadian price options show on the list. Available on iOS and Android.
SnapTell – A part of A9, effectively Amazon, SnapTell uses visual scanning to identify products. The app is free. Simply find a CD, DVD or book, and take a photo from within the app, or select from your camera roll on the iPhone. The picture taken of the cover will be compared with a database of product images, and has a very high match rate to products based on my scans. Like RedLaser, the app will then provide a listing of where the item can be purchased online. Barcodes can also be scanned or entered manually – in fact, there is a high-tech barcode scanning animation that hints that James Bond uses this thing. While the image capture has a bit more gee-whiz factor than scanning barcodes, it does require a couple of extra keystrokes to take the photo, and then press the use button, but it’s not a massive pain. Earlier versions with iPhone 3G were painfully slow, but with iPhone 4 it’s quite snappy. From a Canadian perspective, there is no Canadian pricing option that showed on my scans. The app also displays useful information about movies for example, with links to Google, Youtube, IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes and more. There is a local pricing option that is set to work in the US and UK – given that these are the only two regions selectable in the app. Available on iOS and Android.
ShopSavvy – Another barcode scanning app with similar functionality, ShopSavvy takes a slightly different angle, providing a list of deals right on the main screen. It also has some list functionality for comparison shoppers to track what prices they see for an item at stores as well. ShopSavvy also has a great deal of sharing functionality including the ability to share details via email, dropbox, facebook, tumblr, and twitter. There weren’t as many online store options as RedLaser and Snaptell (no Canadian stores again), but it scanned just as well and was as easy to use. The app is free. Available on iOS and Android.
Pic2Shop – Another nice little scanning app that bills itself as the original barcode scanner on the app store, Pic2Shop is another nice little scanning app that can be used to shop. Using the same scanning process as the other apps, Pic2Shop is very quick. From a Canadian perspective, amazon.ca is the first item that shows on the list, so there is a Canadian pricing option! Pic2Shop also offers a plethora of sharing options – in fact, you can share via pretty much every social media format I’ve heard about. Google, Bing and Yahoo search capabilities are also available. The app is free. Available on iOS, Android and Windows.
In case the threat of apps outside of Canada isn’t enough, there are other apps that Canadian consumers could be using include both the Amazon, and Canadian Tire apps. Both of these apps have scanning directly within the app. Consumers walking through bookstores can scan for pricing from Amazon by grabbing a book from shelves to price compare. Consumers looking at any product in a store (or at home) can scan it within the Canadian Tire app, and find out pricing and availability at their closest Canadian Tire Store.
All of these apps are amazing work and do a great job of things that were unthinkable just a few years ago. For retailers, there is a great opportunity to leverage these platforms – whether by getting on the databases that they search, or by integrating them into retailer specific apps. It’s easy to imagine using these apps as one’s own personal price verifier – in store or otherwise. Perhaps that price verifier could be used to indicate interest in a subscription to a product so that one knows when a specific brand of peanut butter is on sale, or when a new shipment of lobsters is coming in. An even simpler option that has not arisen yet – why not open a Kobo, Kindle or iBooks eReader app, and pull down a book from the shelf and scan the barcode or the cover, so that the book opens in the eReader store, and at the press of a button it downloads to the iPhone app for later reading? This would be a huge step to pull together the mobile and store worlds. While it sounds risky and cannabalistic, if a bookstore doesn’t do it, someone else can use these apps to build it, so the option is to approach this on ones’ own terms, or let someone else dictate those terms.
Then again, perhaps these things that I have described already exist. There are thousands of apps in the App Store and in the Android Market. I could have missed some. Let me know which if I’ve missed and your experiences with them.