July 8, 2010, 3:11 PM

PriceGrabber adds another mobile bar code scanning app

PriceGrabber has launched an app for Android mobile phones that offers bar code scanning.

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Comparison shopping site Pricegrabber.com already has Apple Inc. covered with its iPad and iPhone apps. Now it’s turning to Google Inc., launching an app for Google’s Android operating system that enables shoppers to scan bar codes, read product reviews and compare products from their Android phones.

The PriceGrabber bar code scanning app follows the introduction of the company’s app for the iPhone, which also had bar code scanning capabilities, and on the heels of several recent mobile bar code scanning announcements. Last month, eBay Inc. announced it had acquired RedLaser, provider of a mobile app for scanning bar codes to help consumers compare prices in stores with those online. Mobile technology vendor Getfugu Inc. announced in March a deal with software developers HyTech Professionals to develop mobile bar code scanning technology. AT&T Inc. said recently it will test bar code scanning on its phones. And in May, Target Corp. introduced bar code scanning functionality within its free iPhone app.

PriceGrabber’s free Android app, which it developed in-house, enables shoppers to use their phones in stores to scan a bar code and search the PriceGrabber comparison shopping engine for the lowest price for an item. Shoppers also can search, browse and compare products by product name, part number or by typing in the 12-digit Universal Product Code (UPC) number below a bar code. Other features include access to product and expert reviews and what PriceGrabber calls the Bottom Line Price, which includes shipping and taxes. To get the Bottom Line price, a consumer can either enter her ZIP code or use the GPS in her mobile devices to determine fees for shipping products to her area.

Consumers also can a keep favorites list of products they want to save and access at a later time. There is also a feature called the Gift Shaker: the shopper enters a category and price, shakes the phone and is presented with a list of gift suggestions. Once shoppers find an item they would like to buy on the PriceGrabber site, they can click through to a retailer’s e-commerce or m-commerce site to buy, PriceGrabber says.

“With an increasing number of PriceGrabber users adopting Android devices, we knew it was important that we create a mobile app specific to this platform to respond to user demand,” Barbary Brunner, chief marketing officer for PriceGrabber.com Inc., a unit of Experian plc, tells E-Commerce Technology Report. “When a PriceGrabber customer uses our Android application, they are able to make an educated decision as a result of being able to easily search and narrow their selection from our millions of products offerings from thousands of retailers.”

EBay also believes there’s a bright future in bar code scanning. It made that apparent with its purchase of iPhone bar code scanning app RedLaser. Consumers are showing their interest, too. RedLaser for example, has been downloaded more than two million times, according to eBay. And it wasn’t free as the PriceGrabber app is. It used to cost $1.99, until eBay made it free when it bought the technology in June. EBay has grand plans for its new technology. It will use it to give consumers access to all the listings on eBay and on its comparison shopping site, Shopping.com. It also reportedly has future plans to provide access through the app to products listed on other online marketplaces, such as Amazon.com.

However, analysts are on the fence about just how big mobile scanning of bar codes will be. “Bar code scanning is a convenience, but it’s not a necessity,” says Paula Rosenblum, managing partner of research and advisory firm Retail Systems Research LLC. “I’ve been Googling up the manufacturer’s part number for a couple of years now, doing price comparisons. This is about PriceGrabber trying to avoid getting disintermediated, and it’s for their benefits.” And she says in general, scanning doesn’t always work for all products. For example, it may not work for private label and unique model numbers sold to particular retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp., she says.  “Depending on the item, consumers will need to do comparisons at home, prior to heading out to the store, or after the fact,” she adds.

While bar code scanning may be good news for shoppers, helping them find  low prices for goods online while in a store, it likely isn’t such hot news for bricks-and-mortar retailers, says Hung LeHong, research vice president, retail, for research and advisory firm Gartner Inc. Especially when one considers Amazon.

“Amazon is a real retail threat in the U.S. in this scenario,” he says. “Imagine consumers that check Amazon prices while in a retail store. Imagine that they have single click purchase and Amazon Prime. They simply ask themselves, can I wait until tomorrow or the day after to receive this product from Amazon for less? Shipping is already free.” Amazon Prime provides free shipping to customers who pay an annual $79 fee. Amazon, LeHong adds, also recently acquired a company called SnapTell that can identify certain items such as DVDs from a photo the consumer takes with her phone, eliminating the need for a bar code scan.

Whether consumers check prices by bar code or photo, LeHong believes stores will need to modify their in-store pricing policies to account for mobile price checks. For example, retailers that guarantee they will match or beat competitors’ prices will need to assess the impact of consumers having mobile devices to check prices. “There is a lot of value in having the customer already in your store with an item in their hand asking a sales associate if they can match a price,” LeHong says. “Retailers should train their associates to close the sale in these situations.”

LeHong says his firm’s research shows  U.S. and U.K. consumers want to be able to check a price from a mobile device while in a store. In fact, he adds, consumers rate that price-checking capability as more important than other mobile shopping activities, such as finding stores, browsing products and even buying products.

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