Retailer beware

Retailer beware

Summary: I foresee a vast, insidious infiltration of the Internet into brick-and-mortar retailers as "customers" bring Amazon's cash register into every store they visit.

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TOPICS: Mobility
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Today's item comes from Finland, where the VTT (Valtion Teknillinen Tutkimuskeskus, and much good may it do you) lab in Tampere has developed software that allows a camera phone to scan foods' barcodes and come back with details of their nutritional value. (In the United States you just look at the box for nutritional information, which is mandated by the Food and Drug Administration. It's fun to see a cheap, private solution that goes around a government.)

So what?

Many years ago, when the Internet was just coming to U.S. cell phones, I contrived an unnatural marriage between a barcode reader and a phone, then hooked the resulting device up to a server-based "bargain finder" that talked to the online book stores of the day. You could scan any book and the phone's display would come back with a list of retailers who had it and the price each was charging. The idea was that you could then complete an order with the push of a button. (I've noticed that one major U.S.-based bookstore subverts this possibility: They cover books' printed barcodes with different, stick-on barcodes of their own. Other retailers, fearing "bargain phones," might one day follow suit.) I never expected it to happen--who was going to develop cell phones with built-in barcode readers?--but I didn't anticipate that cameras might serve as a substitute technology. Now that it's actually happening, I foresee a vast, insidious infiltration of the Internet into brick-and-mortar retailers as "customers" bring (in effect) Amazon's cash register into every store they visit. New shopping motto: Caveat vendor.

Topic: Mobility

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2 comments
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  • SO

    if you find that the price on that book is $1 more than another book store 3miles away, will you put it down and drive to the other store? Retailers figured this one out MANY years ago! Take appliances for example - each store carries different brands from one another. If they DID carry the same brand, then the model numbers would be slightly different. This makes comparison shopping difficult.
    Roger Ramjet
  • Mystery Solved

    I'm a library professor who does research on selling used books and wish to thank you for clearing up the mystery about why some booksellers cover up the bar code with their label. This "trick" makes my research more difficult because I then need to find the ISBN on the verso of the title page. I've also heard from a colleague that used book dealers bring their cell phones to library book sales to discover the selling price for the materials offered for sale to see if they can make a killing.
    rholley13