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Mobile bar code scanning has become mainstream: survey

January 20, 2011

Danielle Nohe is director of technology and entertainment at Compete

Mobile bar code scanning applications have been used by 28 percent of smartphone owners, according to the third-quarter 2010 Smartphone Intelligence survey by Kantar Media’s Compete.

In addition to the rise of mobile bar code scanning, other notable insights include the reluctance of some consumers to upgrade from feature phones to smartphones, infrequent use of mobile banking applications and the simplicity of must-have features among smartphone shoppers.

“This information highlights the opportunity for carriers to bundle shopping-related applications and promote them to smartphone owners,” said Danielle Nohe, director at Compete, Boston. “The popularity of scanning grocery items indicates an opportunity for increased integration with other touch points in a consumer’s life – such as providing nutritional information or recipe ideas.

“Even retail stores can benefit as long as they are keeping competitive on prices,” she said. “We have seen time and time again that consumers want to buy a product now and take it home with them.

“If looking up a price through bar code scanning reveals that the consumer is getting a good deal, they may be more comfortable making the purchase at that time in the retail store.”

Compete’s quarterly Smartphone Intelligence product provides both behavioral and survey-based insights into how consumers are using iPhones, BlackBerry and Android devices, as well as other smartphones.

Mobile bar codes on the rise
Bar code scanning, which not long ago was a niche application, should now be top-of-mind for all retailers, per Compete.

The highest rate of adoption is among Android owners—48 percent have tried a bar code scanning application.

Not far behind are iPhone owners at 39 percent, followed by BlackBerry owners at 14 percent, according to Compete.

More than half of these active respondents said that they scanned a bar code while in a store in order to compare the price of the product with prices in other stores.

Others—23 percent of survey respondents—claim to have scanned an image of a product to bring up more information about it.

In addition, 13 percent said that they have scanned a product’s bar code so they could buy it with their smartphone.

The high prices of smartphones and data plans continue to be a barrier to smartphone adoption for mobile phone owners, per Compete.

More than half of mobile phone owners reported that they do not own a smartphone—that is, a phone with advanced application/email/Internet functionality—because the plans that are required with smartphones are too expensive.

Mobile banking usage is on the rise, with 40 percent of respondents using mobile banking applications at least once a month.

However, most consumers are not yet making these applications part of their everyday routine—only 6 percent of consumers make a daily habit out of using mobile banking apps on their devices, according to Compete.

Although the top-five must-have features for smartphones across all consumers include basics such as long battery life, Internet capability, personal email access, a high-quality screen and camera/video, among those who spent more than $100 on their most recent device, consumers are more likely to cite phone design, high-speed data, touchscreen and email access as top priority features.

“Bar code scanning is increasing in popularity among smartphone owners, so it should be top-of-mind for retailers,” Ms. Nohe said. “Forty-eight percent of Android owners have used a bar code scanning application – this shows the power of pre-loading certain applications on the device.

“The most popular items scanned by smartphone owners are grocery items—26 percent—books, DVDs and video games—23 percent—and apparel—11 percent,” she said.

“Consumers are increasingly turning to their smartphones to do research when they are shopping, but away from their normal online environment.”

Thirty-six percent of smartphone owners say that they “check the price of an item while at a store considering a purchase, to make sure getting a good deal” at least one or two times per month, with an additional 20 percent performing this activity a bit more frequently.

“These are shoppers that want to be informed, and the bar code scanning provides an easy way to access additional product information and pricing,” Ms. Nohe said.

Final Take
Dan Butcher, associate editor, Mobile Commerce Daily

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Dan Butcher is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach him at

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