Mobile Barcode Search Has The Power to Crumble Brick & Mortar

By Tad Miller | Dec 18, 2009
More Articles by Tad


I love my new Verizon Android Phone.  It’s capabilities are well publicized: augmented reality applications, Google Voice Search, GPS functionality and the other typical smart phone features.

But one feature available as an app on the Android Marketplace, has the potential to fundamentally change the way we shop.  The Barcode Scanner integrates with Google Shopping and Google search results.  As mobile phone aps go its incredibly easy, simply turn it on, use your camera phone to scan a UPC Barcode and it asks you if you want to see Google Product Search Results or Google Web Search Results.

As a long time smart phone user, I’ve been doing comparison shopping by typing in search queries with the tiny keyboard on my phone, it’s tedious, and sometimes guess work to get the correct search terms that would bring up good comparison products (translation it’s slow and kind of a pain).  Now, anyone with a smart phone capable of utilizing a Barcode app can quickly scan the UPC Product code and get price comparisons of the product in seconds.

Now you can quickly find out if the deal in the store is as good as you think it is or better than you think it is.  The data to compare is at your finger tips.  The implications for traditional brick and mortar storefronts are staggering and potentially even dire.  If you aren’t competitive on price, it’s easier than ever for shoppers to discover that in seconds.  Sadly, I think the Mom & Pop Independent stores that don’t have the ability to negotiate volume discounted wholesale prices continue to be the losers in this situation.  But even a Big Box retailer like Best Buy is impacted by this.  The higher ticket the item the more likely this kind of in store comparison shopping will take place.

The winners from Barcode Search Shopping are the businesses that upload their products to Google Merchant Center, with UPC (Universal Product Code) numbers in their feed.  But it’s also important to capitalize on using UPC numbers on web pages for comparison shoppers that use Google web search instead of product search.  It looks like having the UPC number in the Title tags of the page and on the page itself is very important for ranking high in Barcode web search.

On top of Google Product and Web Search the E-commerce Beast that stands to gain the most from Barcode Search and also has it as part of it’s mobile app is Amazon.com.

E-commerce retailers need to utilize the same practices with optimizing Barcode Search Results as with optimizing Google Product Search Results (they are the same thing).  Getting reviews seems to be the big factor that moves merchants to the top of the results.  Tom Critchlow’s Post on SEOMoz “How to Rank Well in Google Products Search & a Big List of Places to Get Reviews” is THE guide on how to do this.  Tom says:

In my experience and research, Google Checkout reviews seem to count for more than reviews left on 3rd party sites. This does seem to make sense since these reviews are presumably more trusted by Google (since it controls the spam filtering and authentication) than 3rd party reviews. That said, it does mean you have to have Google Checkout enabled to profit from them!

An interesting aside here: it’s not something I’ve tested, but if I were building a ranking algorithm based on reviews, I would make the raw number of reviews count as a ranking factor, positive or negative. Why? Because this signifies trust and brand awareness. The more people that are leaving reviews about you, the bigger your brand is. Given Google’s shift towards brands recently, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a factor so bear this in mind when getting reviews.

Barcode search isn’t ready to “explode” this next year, but it’s here now and it’s here to stay.  We can all benefit from getting the lowest price possible, but retailers now have to be even more on guard to being too high priced.

Most retailers realize that the competition isn’t across the street, it’s all across the country it has free shipping.   The difference now is that it’s easier to find than ever with the right phone.  Brick and Mortar retail outlets face the possibility of just becoming product show rooms, where e-commerce shoppers go to look at the products in person and then order that same product on their phone after doing a Barcode search on it.

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