MOBILE FAQ & REVIEW
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT MOBILE SHOPPING AND SCANNING APPS
PLEASE READ THIS ENTIRE PAGE. IT CONTAINS INFORMATION THAT I CONSIDER VITAL CONCERNING UPC AND EAN USE WITH MOBILE APPS.
Q: So, I buy some UPCs from you. What do people see when my codes are scanned?
A: This is one of the most common questions I get. The answer depends on 2 conditions: 1) The databases (or, lack thereof) that contain your product info, and 2) What the code is being scanned with.
Q: Databases? You mean my product and company data isn't built into the code?
A: No, it's not. Bar codes are now so common and have been around so long that people seldom stop to think about how they actually work. A large number of people believe that all of the product data is contained in the code itself. Others believe that the scanner automagically accesses The Vast Database of All Things Manufactured and Their Corresponding UPC Codes. Neither is true.
How the system works is this. A UPC is a unique 12 digit number that has no duplicate, anywhere. This number is associated with a unique data set (like product and company information) in a database. The bar code itself is simply a machine readable graphic of the 12 digit UPC number. When a scanner scans the code, it calls forth whatever data is assigned to the UPC number in the database that the scanner has access to.
There are huge databases and small databases, with the common denominator that not a single one of them is complete.
An example of a small one is your local mom & pop convenience store. When you sell them product, they enter it into their point of sale software. When the product is scanned at the register, what is displayed about the product is the data that you provided.
A huge database would be Home Depot, which has around 1950 stores and can share it's database between them. The same process, however, takes place whether it's mom & pop or Home Depot.
A huge database would also be Amazon or Google, and both internet giants have been compiling theirs for years. These are the ones that are commonly used by mobile apps on smart phones, and may be the most complete product/UPC databases in existence.
Another large database is GEPIR, which is GS1's database of company UPC/EAN prefixes. This database contains almost no information about individual UPC/product assignments, so it's practically useless at the consumer retail level. Amazingly, a company has started to use it, and we'll get to that in a moment. If someone goes to the trouble of going to the GEPIR web site and entering any of my codes, the return will be HL Outdoors, my company, because my company bought the prefix (1st 6 digits) from which all of my codes are created from GS1US when it was called the Uniform Code Council (UCC).
Q: So what happens when someone scans my code with a smart phone?
A: That depends on the app being used and where you sell (or, don't sell) your products.
If you sell on Amazon, for instance, and the app being used is Amazon Mobile or ShopSavvy, the return will be whatever data you provided to Amazon when you listed the product for sale. The apps may also display comparible items from your competitors.
If you don't sell on Amazon or have your products listed on another large internet database (like Google Merchant Center), Amazon Mobile and ShopSavvy will probably not be able to find any data associated with your code. In that case, the return will be "product not found" or "no prices found".
There is another very popular scanning app that behaves differently. The RedLaser app (which is owned by eBay) behaves like the ones already mentioned when it scans a code associated with data in the databases it uses - that is, it displays whatever data the code owner has associated with the number.
In the cases where it finds no associated product data, however, RedLaser defaults to the GEPIR database, and the return is "sorry, no prices found" AND "product of HL Outdoors".
Q: Whoa!! You mean my product will be identified as your product??
A: Yes, it will, using RedLaser under the circumstances I've described. Calm down , though, all is not as it seems, and I have several solutions to tell you about.
Q: I don't care about your solutions, I'm going to buy from someone else!
A: OK, but the only place you can buy that will effect RedLaser's behavior concerning your codes is GS1US itself. You're not going to like that at all, or you wouldn't be here in the first place.
Q: What about your competitors? They don't say anything about this.
A: No, they don't, do they? I suppose it's possible that they are unaware it is happening, I just found out myself on 3/27/13.
Several of them do offer (for fees) "data submission services" and mention RedLaser by name.
Q: How do you know that this problem exists with other reseller's codes?
A: Because RedLaser is obviously using GS1's GEPIR database.
Q: How do you know RedLaser is using GS1's GEPIR database?
A: Because GEPIR is the only database in the world that associates my company name with ALL of my codes. It's inconceivable to me that RedLaser would single little ol' me out for special treatment.
In fact, if you buy codes from someone else, scan them with RedLaser, and they return A) product data, or B) no company name, you should immediately get your money back, if you can. If it's not in the GS1 database, it's not the genuine article.
This is one of 2 situations where RedLaser's behavior is actually a positive. The other is below.
Q: What does this say about RedLaser's accuracy?
A: Only bad things. They claim to be "impossibly accurate". The UPC code reseller market has been in existence for over 10 years now. Not only that, but my competitors over at Bargain Basement Barcode have spent several years buying the codes of failed companies for the princely sum of a hundred bucks a throw. That's $100.00 for 100,000 codes.
I think it's safe to say that millions of products are now coded with re-seller codes. That means that RedLaser has millions of opportunities to tell you that the code you just scanned is produced by a company that does not exist.
Q: How do you know Bargain Basement Barcode was buying whole prefixes for $100.00?
A: Because at least 12 companies have contacted me to ask if I thought it was a fair price, and told me who offered it. My response, of course, was "No, it's not even close".
I would be uneasy about buying these codes, by the way, but that's another matter.
Q: Does RedLaser know this?
A: Yes. I told them. By ignoring this, they cross the line from simply inaccurate to wilfully misleading.
Q: Allright, I've come this far. What can be done about this?
A: I've already supplied the most obvious - buy from GS1US, if you have the stomach and wallet for it.
The second answer is a little counterintuitive, but hang with me. For certain businesses, this RedLaser behavior may actually be a benefit. If your business is a local or regional one, it is probably to your advantage to not compete with internet businesses. Remember, we're talking about comparison shopping apps here. They not only find you, they find your competitors when they scan your codes. If they don't find you in a code based scan, they don't find competing products. It may also even be a selling point - brick & mortar businesses are getting cranky about being used as internet showrooms by smart phone shoppers.
The third answer is if you want RedLaser to say it's you when your code is scanned, we can do that.
The most obvious way is to click here - http://redlaser.com/partners/data/ - and feed them data directly. They have (at the moment) only 3 required fields, so it shouldn't be difficult. Please note, however, that they say that your data my be "rejected without notice".
A more reliable and, ultimately, easier way may be Google Merchant Center. RedLaser uses this database. When providing data feeds to Google, I strongly encourage you to use the template that Google provides. I was not successful at feeding them data until I did.
RedLaser accesses other databases, too, but I don't know which ones (yet). Some of my larger Amazon clients show up correctly, others don't.
Q: How do you know that RedLaser uses Google databases?
A: Because about a week after submitting them to Google, my products appeared correctly in RedLaser.
If you have any more questions, please feel free to email me at email@example.com .
As I was composing this page, it occurred to me that I am in a rather unique position to critique these mobile apps - I know exactly who I sold codes to, when, and what their general business is. Here, then, is my review of mobile comparison shopping apps, in their Android versions. I could not get ScanLife or Barcode Scanner to work on my (less than 1 year old) Android phone, so they are not included. Apps are rated first to worst, but if you've read the preceding page you have a good idea of how this is going to turn out. All of the reviewed apps are free and have iPhone, Android, and Windows versions.
So, without further ado, the winner is:
#1) ShopSavvy - This thing is amazing!!! If the product is in an internet database, ShopSavvy will find it. The clincher was that ShopSavvy found a product in the Amazon database that Amazon Mobile itself didn't find. Code acquistion is lightning fast and super accurate. Really, if you're going to do this, you're wasting your time if you don't use this app.
#2) Amazon Mobile - OK, but only gives results from Amazon. That's not terrible, Amazon is, overall, a good place to shop. Code acquisition is very fast, but can be inaccurate. A work in progress.
#3) RedLaser - Only scores this highly because it has no competition for last place. Relies on a database that is useless for product level identification. Hard to believe it's as popular as it is. Code acquisition is very slow, but accurate once you can get it to work. Needs a major philosophy adjustment before it can be given any serious consideration.
Any questions, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org .