Linear barcodes, which are one-dimensional and the kind we see most frequently on the products we purchase today, became commonplace in the 1980’s, despite the fact that the technology had been patented some thirty years before. A new report released by eMarketer just last month shows that the latest developments in barcode technology―2D barcodes (aka matrix codes)―are taking hold in a mere fraction of the time given their relatively recent arrival on the scene in the 1990’s.
According to the report, the U.S. ranked first in the growth of 2D barcode use for the first quarter of 2011, with a jump of more than 181% since the final quarter of 2010. The UK, Netherlands, Spain and Canada are following close behind in that order. The most widespread use of this kind of technology is in Japan, where it has already become a part of everyday life thanks to the fact that the country has one very dominant operator to make sense of it all.
The new 2D barcodes are noticeably different than the linear version, both in form and function. First of all, they look different, comprising black and white squares most often on a square grid. Secondly, where linear barcodes are somewhat limited in size and capacity when it comes to encoding information, these newer barcodes are practically limitless. Furthermore, recent technological advancements have enabled cell phones to act as readers of these newer codes, bridging the gap between the virtual and physical worlds for marketers in very new and exciting ways. The fact that these barcodes can be read on-the-go and in real-time by a cell phone is what has given them their most commonly used name―mobile barcodes.
Mobile barcodes have the ability to work much like a hyperlink on a website, allowing for the measureable and interactive exchange of information between businesses and their customers. For instance, magazines like People and Esquire are using them to enhance reader interest and sell advertisers’ products and services directly from their pages. Retailers are also getting in on the action. Home Depot recently announced that it would be bringing mobile barcodes to its shelves and including them in their print ads and signage, allowing shoppers to access how-to videos, product demos, relevant accessories, and buying and project guides and even giving them the ability to make online purchases.
It’s no doubt that the possible applications for this kind of groundbreaking technology are astounding. Mobile barcodes are already familiar sights on billboards and in newspaper and magazine ads, on product packaging and websites and even play a role in mobile ticketing and couponing. However, some key challenges may preclude them from being a useful or cost-effective marketing tool for smaller businesses…yet anyway.
First, consumer education and awareness are severely lacking, making this technology perhaps too unfamiliar for the time being to warrant any serious investment. Second, efforts to increase the number of handsets that have pre-installed mobile barcode readers are just now taking off, so it’s not necessarily a great idea to get on board with something that is still so much in development. Third, the variety of mobile barcode symbologies is considerable such that many experts agree worldwide industry agreement regarding open standards and interoperability is imperative before this technology can reach its full potential.
The fact is that the next five to ten years will witness huge gains in how mobile barcode technology evolves and is implemented. As a home-based or other small- or medium-sized business or franchise owner, the better part of valor may be to wait until both its use becomes more accepted practice and its limitless possibilities are more fully realized.