Mobile barcodes: Key ingredient in the cross-channel commerce mix for retailers

By Carsten Thoma, carsten.thoma@hybris.com

Mobile is not just another customer communications channel; it is rapidly evolving into an effective commerce channel. Strengthening the link between existing channels such as physical and online stores, mobile now enables customers to start shopping using their mobile devices and finish the process online, via a contact center, in the brick-and-mortar store, or even on the mobile device itself.

But customers are not just using their phones to purchase; they are looking for information across the entire buying cycle, including searching for products, locating stores, checking order status or product availability, getting product overviews and photos, reading customer reviews and product specifications, and arranging for in-store pick-up. Mobile devices enable customers to get information whenever and wherever they want. To meet these needs and help drive cross-channel commerce initiatives, retailers need to be able to communicate bi-directionally with customers and prospects effectively via the mobile medium. One of the ways to do that is by generating and enabling mobile barcode functionality.  

A newer concept here in the United States, mobile barcode technology, used extensively in Asia and gaining traction in Europe, presents significant potential benefits to retailers. With this functionality, retailers can enable consumers to use their smartphones almost as a kind of scanner -- but one that does much more than simply show the price of a product. Most consumers, however, may not be aware of this capability. Many of the newer phones, including the newest model iPhone, BlackBerry and Android, for example, can deliver this functionality. However, it requires an education on the customer side for this functionality to be fully maximized.

So what can your customers -- and you as a retailer -- do with this functionality?

To put this into context, consider the products on your store shelves. There is typically little space to explain the products. Placing a barcode on the products, which a consumer can scan with his phone and be instantly linked to a website page ensures he is then able to receive a wealth of information on the product right at his fingertips, including customer reviews, a promotion, additional product details, etc. Quicker and more efficient than requiring the consumer to type a product or model number into your main website page on his phone, the barcode can effectively help guide and encourage a purchasing decision on the spot.

Another example of how mobile barcodes can be used is in conjunction with an advertising campaign. You can include a barcode next to a product image in an advertisement. Using their mobile phone, a consumer can scan this barcode and be immediately directed to a mobile website. From there they can place the product in a shopping cart for immediate purchase or purchase from their PC later. It can take just a few minutes from a consumer reading an advertisement to turn that experience into a sale, without the consumer having to do much more than take a scan of the barcode from the comfort of wherever they are at that time. Barcodes can be included on billboard advertisements as well, with the same result. Looking down the road, it will become possible as the technology matures for retailers to be able to create heat maps to see where the billboard advertisements had the greatest impact, helping to shape future advertising and marketing decisions.

Mobile barcodes can also help drive traffic into your store. For example, a customer may purchase something online, and as a thank you, you can then email that customer an in-store coupon or voucher with a barcode. Without ever having to print out the voucher, the customer can use his phone to show that email at the register, and the store clerk can simply scan the barcode during checkout. Again, this makes it as easy as possible for the customer and helps drive sales.

Through the use of social media, your customers can also help drive sales by leveraging mobile barcode technology. Creating their own viral, community-driven marketing programs, customers may re-tweet sales offers with links to barcodes or share coupons with Facebook friends, encouraging additional sales. Using your e-commerce system, you can place controls on how long these offers may run, how many vouchers may be available, etc.

Mobile barcode functionality is emerging here in the United States, but the technology is available and affords many benefits to both retailers and customers alike and helps to link cross-channel commerce initiatives. In a “commerce anywhere” world, this presents you with a way to encourage a sale at the moment the customer is engaged with your business wherever he or she may be and enables that customer to easily and immediately make that purchase in a way that’s beneficial to them.

Carsten Thoma is president of hybris U.S. Thoma is also the COO of hybris Group and co-founded multichannel commerce software provider hybris in 1997. He can be reached at carsten.thoma@hybris.com. For more information on hybris, visit hybris.com.