Sears First Out Of Gates with 2-D Bar Codes

Sears is the first major U.S. retailer to start a public trial of 2-D barcode technology.

Efforts to implement retail 2-D bar codes are accelerating, with Sears becoming the first U.S. retailer to begin a public trial that started in mid-December at a store in Marietta, Georgia.

Sears' name is now on a substantial list of top-tier U.S. retailers who have been seriously exploring the technology, including Best Buy, Gap, Target and Nordstrom.

There are multiple vendors pushing the technology in the United States; Best Buy and Target are working with a company called StoreXperience, while Sears and others are talking with an outfit called ScanBuy.

At the National Retail Federation show in New York City this week, some retailers and consumer goods manufacturers discussed the 2-D efforts, almost all in exchange for an agreement that they not be quoted by name as most are considering similar trials.

The technique involves having a cell phone's digital camera "look" at a small 2-D bar code on an advertisement, which launches an applet. A server interprets the bar code and the phone then launches a Web browser and deep-links to a page on that site, typically the Web site of the advertiser.

Currently, the biggest concern, which is also likely to be the most short-lived, is that the service is available on a relatively few phones in the United States. The concern about a shortage of supported phones was mentioned by a Sears manager involved in the trial.

Click here to read more about Sears' decision to shut down its "Manage My Home" site because of poor security controls.

ScanBuy, for example, has worked out deals with only Sprint and Alltel, according to ScanBuy CEO Jonathan Bulkeley. Such negotiations are complex because it requires deals and programming for multiple browsers, carriers, hardware manufacturers, operating systems and camera manufacturers. A code or management change from any one of those players can make the whole package unravel.