July 10, 2013, 4:48 PM

Are images a more attractive option than QR codes?

One mobile technology vendor is betting on retailers integrating its image recognition system into their apps.

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Instead of scanning a bar code, consumers can scan an image to get more information to display on their smartphones, LTU says.

LTU Technologies is betting against QR codes—because it has a competing technology it believes better serves consumers and retailers.

LTU offers retailers mobile technology that relies on image recognition instead of QR codes to link a physical object, such as a sign or magazine page, to mobile web-based content via a smartphone. Retailers can integrate the technology into their mobile apps. A retailer provides LTU with images of logos and products it wants consumers to be able to scan. When a consumer sees the image of a logo, product or magazine ad, for example, she can open the retailer’s app to scan it. And, as with QR codes, the scanned image can trigger a link to a mobile web site, video or other online function, says Stephen Shepherd, LTU general manager.

Images commonly scanned are found in magazine advertisements, inside stores and on marketing materials, he says.

Pricing is based on the number of queries consumers make, the number of images retailers include in the system, and additional services, Shepherd says. The entry point can be as low as $1,000 per month, he says.

The technology is an extension of LTU’s facial recognition technology used by law enforcement agencies. When an image is scanned, data about the image is sent from the app to LTU’s servers where it is analyzed. Then, any online action the retailer has associated with the image is sent back to the app, which automatically takes action, such as linking to a mobile web site, Shepherd says. On average, it takes between 2.5 seconds and 3.5 seconds for the entire process, he says.

“The future of this is how do we make this ubiquitous and replace QR codes,” Shepherd says. Luxury brands in particular may adopt LTU’s technology because it means they don’t have to place QR codes, which luxury retailers may consider ugly, on their marketing materials, he adds.

While there is an appeal to mobile image recognition, retailers should ask how it compares to what they use now, says Julie Ask, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. “Amazon has done this for a long time with things like book, DVD and CD covers, but they are triggering from the titles not the images,” Ask says. “Others have done it with branded logos.” She advises asking how fast it works relative to other technologies and if there are image restrictions.

LTU says its technology records numerous data points per image that enable it to account for blurring, lighting and movement and still get a successful scan. The amount of data per scan is only 25 kilobytes, Shepherd says.

He says the technology may be particularly helpful for retail chains trying to counter showrooming—when consumers go to stores to view products and then use their smartphones to compare prices. Retailers could use displays inside of their stores to make scannable offers that keep smartphone-toting consumers engaged, he says.

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