Mobile commerce

Scanbuy's New CEO Talks Mobile Bar Codes

Mobile bar codes are piquing the interest of the wireless industry, including the mobile operators and former president of The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) Mike Wehrs. He joined 2D mobile bar code vendor Scanbuy this week as interim CEO to push an idea as simple as the name -- scan it, buy it -- to mainstream mobile phone users.

Wehrs sees mobile phones as the perfect vehicle to execute bar-code-enabled purchases, marketing, and interactivity, and believes that, technologically, phones are there and, culturally, consumers are coming around as well.

"Codes are the easiest vehicle there is to get people to interact with the media out there," Wehrs says. "It's just as fast on a Website to click on the code and take it with you on your mobile device. Those things are fundamentally enabling."

Scanbuy has been providing big brands across the globe with mobile bar code campaigns for a while now, but the technology -- already big in Asia -- is just beginning to take off in the US. The company uses the mobile phone's camera to link the physical world to the digital world and connect users to more information, videos, promotions, coupons, or other ways to interact with brands.

The company -- funded by Motorola Ventures , among others -- requires a multi-bar-code reader application and interoperable Code Management Platform, but can work across smartphones through a downloadable app or on feature phones through partnerships to embed the technology. (See Sony Ericsson Adds Scanbuy Codes.)

Bar codes are not as advanced as short-range mobile payment tech, near-field communications, but there's an element of mCommerce here as well. With a 2D bar code, brands can register users, comparative shop, make purchases, or complete ticketing exchanges at places like airports or public transport.

Scanbuy was also one of the vendors behind Esquire magazine's bar-code issue, which let readers purchase retail items they saw in the magazine or find out more information on ads in the issue.

"We can take what is traditional media and make it interactive with something that doesn’t require someone to type in or remember a URL," Wehrs says. "You transition to a digital campaign. It bridges the world of digital and print very nicely."

The brands, in return, get a direct connection with individual consumers that can be tracked and monetized, the piece of the equation that Wehrs will be homing in on.

Wehrs replaces Jonathan Bulkeley, who has been CEO since 2006, but resigned to pursue other interests. Wehrs comes to Scanbuy after a long history in the telecom industry, including stints at Nuance Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NUAN), Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC), and Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE). Most recently he served as president and CEO of the MMA, where he helped establish best practices for the burgeoning mobile marketing industry.

It's not just the industry associations and vendors that see the potential though. Both mCommerce and mobile marketing are trends that have captured the attention of the traditionally slow-moving wireless operators. In the past month, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Verizon Wireless , and T-Mobile US Inc. have joined forces to evangelize mobile payments, and AT&T has introduced its own mobile bar code service on BlackBerry and Android devices. (See Mo'bile Money, Mo' Problems, AT&T Offers Mobile Barcode Apps, and Mobile Marketers: Just Do Something.)

Shop-specific apps like ShopSavvy, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Shopper, and dedicated vendors like NeoMedia Technologies, which inked a deal with media company Buongiorno this week, are also looking for a piece of the action.

For now, there's plenty to go around. Wehrs knows from his stint at the MMA that the rate of spending on mobile marketing has more than doubled in 2010 and continues to increase at 2.5 times the overall spend in the industry. It's still not a large number compared to other types of ad and marketing programs, he says, but its growth is starting to become significant.

"There's not a major brand out there that's not doing something in incorporating mobile ads and marketing," Wehr says. "It's past the inflection point."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 4:27:08 PM
re: Scanbuy's New CEO Talks Mobile Bar Codes

NeoMedia puts out their own best practices and listed among the challenges are reach and consumer awareness. With a lot of these mobile services, there aren't tech roadblocks, just the need to change consumer behavior. Of course, embedding the tech into handsets is sometimes a challenge, but app stores are lessening the importance of that.

DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 4:27:07 PM
re: Scanbuy's New CEO Talks Mobile Bar Codes

I'd rather not.

I think what would simplify things is an approach that looks beyond replicating a paper-based system on a digital device. This approach seems like one that wants to add steps to a consumer's travel/shopping/whatever with no apparent payback.

I've stood behind the guy who had a boarding pass on his smartphone. The finger print shield and $100 leather case obscured the code just enough so that the gate agent had to enter his bar code by hand into the machine. Good times.

re: "Everyone has their mobile phone with them. Why not use it for ticketing, and so be it if you get some marketing in there too? Ultimately, it wil simplify things."

DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 4:27:07 PM
re: Scanbuy's New CEO Talks Mobile Bar Codes

I'm starting to be wary of stuff that's:

1) Huge in Asia, allegedly, but no one else in the world has ever used it, seen it, or verified that it works.

2) Relies on retail stores to change how they interact with customers. If you think carriers are backwards and dull, try talking to the nation's department stores.

3) Espoused by a new CEO who hasn't had time to get his head around the business. Give it three months and he'll "find a new market" for some of their technologies.

4) Gives consumers one more thing to think of when they're shopping. Coupons, membership clubs, and now bar codes? For what? Am I really going to stop and watch a video about canned corn? It seems the things you REALLY need info about when you shop are too big for bar codes -- autos, homes, appliances, etc.

Unless I'm missing something this whole thing seems like a solution in search of a problem.


sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 4:27:07 PM
re: Scanbuy's New CEO Talks Mobile Bar Codes

I think mobile barcodes are a pretty big opportunity - not so much for marketing, but for ticketing and payments. American Airlines let you use them to check in for your flight, which is great for those of us who forget to print out our boarding passes or don't have a printer. The experience is still clunky today, but it doesn't require new POS readers.

Also, Wehrs has a long history in mobile that spans the network, hardware and software side of the business. Most important, however, is his time as MMA prez. That gave him a purview of the entire mobile marketing industry, so I think that it's notable he choose an opportunity more exciting that SMS campaigns or banner ads.

I agree that it does require a change in consumer behavior, but while it may be one more thing to think about, it's one less thing to carry around or remember. Everyone has their mobile phone with them. Why not use it for ticketing, and so be it if you get some marketing in there too? Ultimately, it wil simplify things. Same reason I think mobile payments will take off too.

Oh, and around 2 billion mobile tickets have already been issued in 2010, says Juniper Research. Most are in Asia.

sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 4:27:07 PM
re: Scanbuy's New CEO Talks Mobile Bar Codes

Fair enough. NFC will make it much more interesting, but that requires new POS readers AND new chipsets embedded in phones. Barcodes are an interim step, but at least they're better than the companies that want you to put stickers on your $100 leather iPhone cases to acheive the same result.

Also, I love coupons. If the barcode would yield a coupon at check out, that'd be enough payback for me.

MobileCodes 12/5/2012 | 4:26:16 PM
re: Scanbuy's New CEO Talks Mobile Bar Codes

Phil:  I think you are missing the point.  Mobile barcodes allow users to retrieve information about an object using their cell phone.  They connect the physical world to the online world.

For instance, you are in WalMart and want more information about a TV from reviewers.  You simply click the barcode and it retrieves the comparisons and critiques. 

Or, you are not sure if the price is competitive, so you call up your ShopSavvy app and scan the barcode.  It will give you both online pricing and local competitors.

This is being done with large objects like cars and homes. 

You can now click on barcode on a building and read about its history. 

You can click on a barcode on a grave and read their story. 

You can click a barcode on a realtor sign and read about the property. 

If you want to read the menu for a restaurant before going in, click on the Google barcode on the window. 

Want more information on the GM car in an advertisement?  Click on the 2D code on the page. 

The idea is to give consumers information while they are interacting with a physical object.  No more searching on Google!  No more waiting to go home to do price comparisons.

Watch for more to come in the secondary market with Ebay's recent purchase of RedLaser (formerly, the number 2 fee app on iPhone). 

Macy's and Best Buy's infancy venture into custom barcode apps will change what we know about how consumers shop. 

DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 4:26:15 PM
re: Scanbuy's New CEO Talks Mobile Bar Codes

The point I'm missing is that consumers are somehow walking around wanting more info about advertisements. Advertising already connects the digital world -- My TV programs -- with the physical world -- stuff at stores.

Isn't the advertisement itself enough?

Maybe I'm just wired differently, but I don't really see the point in most cases.

Now, a barcode on the grave -- that I love. I want one. And I want a pop-up grave stone DVD player as a backup. And a flip book with animation in case the DVD player jams. And a URL on the grave stone in case someone makes off with the flip book.

shygye75 12/5/2012 | 4:26:14 PM
re: Scanbuy's New CEO Talks Mobile Bar Codes

I know my life will be enriched when, instead of a plaque that describes a historic landmark, there will be a barcode, and when I can stand in front of an eatery looking at its menu on my iPhone 8 (complete with 3D photos) instead of having to read a piece of paper that's posted in the window, or even worse, walking in and asking to look at the printed bill of fare.

DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 4:26:14 PM
re: Scanbuy's New CEO Talks Mobile Bar Codes

If you had telepresence, you wouldn't have to go there at all.

Larry, Monkey 12/5/2012 | 4:26:13 PM
re: Scanbuy's New CEO Talks Mobile Bar Codes

"walking in and asking to look at the printed bill of fare"?

Walking? Talking with another non-virtual person?

Can you sense my shudder?

My primitive Monkey friend: Just allow Google to tell you what you want to eat.

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