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Cell Phones as Bar Code Scanners

Your customers may soon use their cell phones to find out prices--and much more.

Though much of the marketing via mobile phones has focused on content sent to phones, today's handheld interactive devices offer another promotional opportunity--one that Japanese businesses are already profiting from. Using bar code scanners added to camera phones and PDAs, customers can scan bar codes in-store and conduct price checks, or take a photo of a bar code with their web-enabled mobile device, then e-mail the code in to get more information or a special offer.

Mobile devices in the U.S. are already equipped with these capabilities and might even include bar code scanners, but U.S. consumers haven't jumped on the scanning bandwagon--yet. "It's on a fast path for widespread adoption by U.S. businesses," says David Hogan, chief information officer of the National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group.

Companies like NextCode and PaperClip assign designations to pre-existing bar codes so web-enabled mobile devices connect that code with a particular website, eliminating time-consuming texting on tiny keyboards. The applications are numerous, says Hogan. "Customers can simply download a coupon or discount, or be connected to information about [a product]."

Hogan says the technology is relatively new in the U.S., but expects it to gain popularity within the next couple of years. "It allows consumers to buy or compare prices online or drives them into stores through special offers."

Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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This article was originally published in the September 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Phone Tag.

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