2-D Bar Code to Hit U.S. in April

Smart phones aimed at posters capture bar codes that give consumers more product information and allow for data mining.

The two-dimensional bar code is going to make its United States debut in April 2008 at several New York consumer electronic and cosmetic retailers, according to Herve Pluche, president of 2-D bar-code vendor StoreXperience.

Pluche said he has cut the first-ever 2-D deal in the United States, with a rollout scheduled at five locations in Manhattan. Asked if that rollout was definite, Pluche said that no agreement has been signed but "we do have a handshake."

The purpose of 2-D bar codes is to leverage two elements of a typical smart phone-the digital camera and a Web browser-to create a rich, two-way data exchange between retailers and consumers.

The way it works, a consumer might see a poster for a particular product-or a model wearing interesting clothes-and want more information. That shopper would aim his or her smart phone at the 2-D bar code. A small applet on the phone would interpret the bar code, launch a browser and go to a very deep link within that site.

The consumer gets details about what the model is wearing or what the product's specs are, along with a link allowing him or her to purchase the items immediately. Beyond the potential sale, the retailer or manufacturer would learn an quite a bit about that consumer transaction.

The very lengthy URL hidden in that 2-D bar code identifies the exact location of every such consumer transaction. Depending on the software being used, there is an excellent chance the consumer can be identified and associated with his or her purchase history. All of this from a tiny picture hidden unobtrusively in a corner of the poster.

However, only smart phones running BlackBerry and Symbian operating systems will be able to participate in the trial, meaning that Apple iPhone and Treo users are out of luck. Asked if the goal is to support iPhones by September, Pluche said, "Absolutely."

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The StoreXperience trial also requires customers to download a 200K rich client. Consumers who can't do that can go to a Web site and select the retailer and key in an eight-to-12-digit PUC code visible below the 2-D bar code. "But the rich client is far superior in terms of experience," Pluche said.

Pluche wouldn't say which retailer had agreed to the five locations, but did reveal that it was a chain focused in either consumer electronics or cosmetics. Pluche said he has met with 10 retailers and that all are very interested, although he wouldn't identify them.