September 22, 2010, 6:13 PM

2-D bar codes and smartphones team up for in-store help

Canon is using the technologies to link customers with a bounty of product information.

Lead Photo

After hovering their smartphone camera over a 2-D bar code, Canon shoppers are presented with customer ratings and reviews, product details, video demonstrations, and more.

Canon wants camera shoppers to have every possible piece of information in front of them in a retail store before they make a decision to purchase a camera or other product, hoping the extra information will sway shoppers away from competitors and to Canon. That’s why it’s now inundating shoppers with information through the combined use of smartphones and two-dimensional bar codes.

The consumer brand manufacturer of cameras and other electronics products has just launched a program in which it is placing 2-D bar codes on product packages. Conventional 1-D bar codes present lines and numbers horizontally and can contain very little information, typically just a product number. 2-D bar codes present visual information both horizontally and vertically and their appearance can be customized. Compared with 1-D bar codes, 2-D bar codes can contain much greater amounts of data, including hyperlinks to mobile web sites.

And that’s how Canon is using them. Smartphone users who have downloaded the Microsoft Tag mobile app can hold the smartphone’s camera above the 2-D bar code on a Canon product. Without the need to snap a picture, the app automatically links the user to a mobile microsite for that product. The microsite contains customer ratings and reviews, video product demonstrations and detailed product information.

Canon is using the mobile web technology and services of Knotice and the 2-D bar code technology of Microsoft Corp. IPhone users can download the Microsoft Tag mobile app in Apple Inc.’s App Store. Other smartphone users can get the bar code reader at GetTag.mobi.

Rather than promote mobile web offerings that create competition solely on price, Canon wants to keep shoppers in-store by blending the research and purchase phases of the retail experience, the company says.

“The goal is to create a great shopping and buying experience at the retail level,” says Yuichi Ishizuka, executive vice president and general manager, consumer imaging group, Canon USA. “We know consumers crave product details and information, and we want to prevent walk-out in cases where consumers are seeking information in-store but can’t get it.”

Knotice focused its work on the mobile web aspects of the program, creating the links and mobile microsites for all of Canon’s products. It also integrated the Microsoft Tag technology. Knotice says Tag is an unconventional opportunity that can serve many purposes for retailers.

“Tag is a seamless and consumer-friendly way to connect people in a physical environment to online content,” says Bryce Marshall, director of strategic services at Knotice. “What makes Tag and 2-D solutions fantastic tools is the flexibility they offer, in two respects. One is how they can be rendered and presented to a consumer. In the Canon scenario the bar codes are on a label that is a couple inches across. We can confidently render it in a small size, place it on a display model, and have a consumer very easily link to an online asset. The other area of flexibility is the online experiences the tag can connect to. The tag can be encoded with information that configures a text message to be sent to a short code, to view a video, to launch a mobile site—a very diverse range of consumer experiences can be connected through the interaction with that tag.”

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