Wednesday, 12 January 2011


“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
-Henry David Thoreau, U.S. philosopher

Those of you with Android phones can now buy a product at the lowest legal first-hand price, every time.
On the Android Market, you can now find the Barcode Scanner- an app that allows you to check out a product for pricing details. The app is free.
I’ve tested it in a few shops recently, which has been interesting. It’s the kind of thing you don’t want shop assistants to notice, seeing as you’re definitely not going to buy anything there. There’s always a cheaper option online, no matter what you’re buying.

The app uses your camera to see the barcode. Your viewfinder will show a flashing red line which you can place over the item's barcode. Press the shutter. Within a second, you'll have a thumbnail photograph of the barcode, along with a description of the item.
My scanning tests have had varying results.
Nothing in clothing shop Allsaints would scan. I think this is because Allsaints stock their own products, and the only other place you’re going to find their gear is second-hand distributors, mostly on E-bay.
Manchester’s T K Maxx was a similar disappointment- I put this down to having no reception. The whole store is underground. Trendy entertainment / coffee shop Fopp is similarly subterranean and didn't yield results.
However, I tried a few DVDs in HMV. Success! The app recognised the item with a loud BEEP (so in smaller shops I could expect a few dodgy looks. The phone's silent mode cancels that out). I clicked the option to search Google for the product, and the app showed me a list of places offering the item- from cheapest upwards. So, HMV. You want £20 for the Cleveland Show? ‘Fraid not. Amazon has it at £15.47.
I scanned a bottle of Glenkinichie in Selfridges. It’s cheapest at Loch Fyne Whiskies ( Chivas Regal in Tesco? has the best price.
Provided you trust the mail companies to deliver these things to you, you can get most items first-hand at the best price, every time using this app. This will inevitably lead to an army of “shoppers” walking into stores, scanning what they want and walking straight back out without buying it- at least, not in that shop.
We can make a few more predictions about shopping habits. Internet shopping will continue to grow in the UK, with consumer’s trust in this type of commerce steadily solidifying.
E-shopping, once something done only at home, is now something you can do anywhere- including in the actual high-street stores. Shop security will be stepped up because of this. Will they like you scanning their products? Not likely. Fairly soon, first-hand prices for products will be unified. To avoid a price war that would drive companies under, outlets will agree on a set price that they will all charge for each product- thus rendering the scanner pretty pointless. Unless…
Outlets start to confuse the issue with multi-buy offers- three for two on DVDs, for instance, which many places like HMV already do. To tempt us away from buying alcohol online, offering deals like this on wines, beers and spirits could keep us coming back to the high street. Some whisky experts say a dram is best served with a drop of mineral water from the Scottish highlands. Expect to see the two of these sold together, on the high street, at “discounted” prices soon. Want a bottle of wine? How about some heavily-discounted-but-finely manufactured cheese to go with it?
For the moment, however, the app is working and is effective. Download the Barcode Scanner from the Android Market today. Check it out, and let me know what you find- and if it changes the way you shop. Which I think it will.

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