The UPC code has been an ever present placeholder on the products I purchase. Until recently this has been nothing more than a small square with some black lines that stood for some sort of coding. As technology has increased what was once a tool used only by the stores and manufactures to track inventory and items has now become a powerful purchasing tool for the consumer.
Recently, I wrote an article highlight resources for those interested in learning or practicing better financial principles. One of these resources I discussed was Redlazer. This iphone application uses the picture taking capabilities and marries it with the access to the internet to allow any individual to take a snapshot of a bar code, have it decoded, and then compared to other internet vendors prices. This allows the consumer to price shop within the city they live in, but can now price shop across the entire world finding the best bang for their buck.
I have found this works extremely well on items that traditionally get a large mark up to help off set the overhead of running a brick and mortar set up. Items include books, dvds, cds, bluray disc, and primarily electronics in general. You would be very pleasantly surprised how much more you may be paying for the exact same item buying it in the store vs purchasing it online.
Now industry is not dumb, and foremost they do not like losing money. Over the past two months since I have downloaded and used RedLazer on my wife’s iphone I have noticed a change in two major ways.
This last weekend we were in a Container Store looking for items to help us get organized before the baby arrives. As I walked around the store with the iphone in hand I kept running into an issue. I would find an item, attempt to scan the upc, and then get frustrated with the numbers did not correctly sync up with what the app was asking for (typically 7 or 12 numbers long). If you do not have the correct barcode the app will not function.
- Upon closer inspection I noticed what the issue was. It appears that businesses have noticed an increase in price shoppers, like myself, and have devised a strategy to thwart our efforts. What I found is that the Container Store had ever so carefully applied a new internal barcode that works off of a different numerical system than what the traditional barcode numbers are set at. They then placed this new internal barcode over the preprinted barcode present on the package upon delivery. Once I figured out the ruse I carefully peeled back the sticker and EUREKA the correct barcode could be found, submitted, and tested for prices.
- Businesses have gone to purchasing “business specific items” with unique barcodes. While at the Container Store I saw a wire rack that could be quickly assembled and dissembled for basic storage. As I scanned the price I got three hits. The current store I was standing in ($29.99), ContainerStore.com ($29.99) and pricegrabber.com vending on behalf of ContainerStore.com ($29.99). What businesses have done is effectively taken out the potential for price competition by competitors by obtaining “unique” items in their own prepacked and labeled boxes. This destroys the consumers ability to compare prices, at least via a barcode comparison product.
So if you have been relying on products like RedLazer or other mobile price comparison products be wary of the every evolving market. On one hand the app has become less effective at what it was designed to do, but who can blame the market on responding, in what I would consider some ingenious ways, to curb their loses in brick and mortar establishments.
What other ways have you seen businesses adapting to respond to this much more connected world we live in today? Do you believe that brick and mortar businesses will be an item of the past?