In this new era of smartphones and shopping, consumers have access to gobs of information in stores: price comparisons, product reviews and even locations of alternative stores nearby where you can buy the same item. Many of the leading shopping apps also have barcode scanning ability.
Barcode scanning is great in theory but in practice my experience has been that scanners work less than 50% of the time, maybe less than 25% of the time on my Android EVO. Typically the barcode apps can’t get a fix on the UPC — there’s not enough light or you can’t hold the phone or item still enough — and you get this irritating “sphincter” action (the focus undulates in and out) but no match. Very often when there is a fix there’s no data. This is a huge problem.
This experience can result in what I will call “barcode rage,” which causes the impulse to throw your phone on the ground.
I was in the grocery store yesterday buying wine for Thanksgiving. Without my EVO I’d just look at prices and wine categories and make a decision. But because I had my phone I decided to scan barcodes to compare prices and get reviews on wines. It was a maddening experience as not one, not two, not even three different barcode apps could resolve the UPC codes on these bottles. I held the wine bottles in my hand; I scanned them on the shelf. Nothing.
Then I decided to search for the wines on Google. What I got was a lot of quasi-spam links to sites that didn’t really provide information about wines I was looking at. The results consisted of wine sites or blogs but most were SEO plays with little or no actual information on the particular wines I was evaluating (except the brand and vintage).
Ten blue links: search, click, back, click. The experience “sucked,” to use the vernacular. It reinforced to me why, in most situations, mobile search is really a back-up solution when there’s not an app. Unfortunately on my EVO I didn’t have any wine apps installed and it was too late to start going through them there in the store. So after about 25 minutes of trying various things I “went oldschool” and just picked a couple of bottles based on past experience.
In many situations smartphones in stores can really help consumers make better decisions or give them confidence to buy. But in many cases they can also slow you down and create tremendous frustration.