Mobile Barcode Scanners Fail Miserably

A report published by Cranfield School of Management and the not-for-profit supply chain standards and solutions organisation, GS1 UK, raises serious questions about the ability of Britain’s current data infrastructure to support the growing development of mobile apps that provide consumers with additional product information. 

The report highlights the results of research which examined the quality of product descriptions and image data available in three of the most downloaded third-party, generic barcode scanning apps for the iPhone. Only 9 per cent of scans returned the correct product description when compared with the approved data.

GS1 UK worked with Cranfield School of Management to design and conduct independent analysis of the accuracy of information available on three leading generic (non-retailer owned) mobile apps with official product details provided by brand owners. The research team carried out 1,125 scans of 375 randomly-selected branded grocery products. 

GS1 UK also commissioned research firm TNS to conduct research on the opinions of 1,086 consumers. The survey was conducted in October 2010 among consumers aged 16 – 64, based in Great Britain, to gain an insight into consumer perceptions when faced with inconsistent data while shopping using their smartphones.

“During our research, some amusing examples of incorrect data were identified,” says Richard Wilding, Professor of Supply Chain Strategy at Cranfield School of Management. “For example, when scanning the barcode of a leading brand of cornflakes, one app provided information about dog bowls. When scanning another barcode for thick sliced bread, information about a disposable latex gloves dispenser was provided. There’s a clear need here for industry to collaborate, so that product data is accurate, up-to-date and standardised across supply chains, stores and online.

According to Professor Wilding, apps specific to UK retailers performed extremely well with regard to the accuracy of product data, but third-party, generic smartphone apps used to scan and source data did not perform so well, with nine out of 10 scans returning incorrect product description when compared to the brand owner’s data. “This is a real concern when you consider that some consumers are trying to locate product information for health reasons,” he says.  

75 per cent of scans returned no product information at all, and 87 per cent of scans returned no image. In instances when information was returned, product information was wrong one in five times. The study also looked at the consumer impact of the lack of accurate and trustworthy product data. Half of those consumers surveyed said they needed an accurate description and image to feel confident that the product is the right one. A third of consumers said they would not buy the product if the app data is inaccurate.

“There is an emerging trend in utility apps that help 21st century ‘savvy shoppers’ make better informed choices before buying. The key to making these services credible though is to provide accurate product information that consumers can trust,” concludes Professor Wilding.

Gary Lynch, chief executive of GS1 UK, notes that multichannel retailing and the increase in use of mobile devices have made mobile services an attractive opportunity for retailers, but cautions: “The Mobile-savvy Shopper report clearly shows that there is a huge problem with missing and inaccurate product information, which consumers are very sensitive to. We found that only 17 per cent of consumers would buy a product if they don’t feel confident about the data they receive; and one in three would stop using an app altogether if they can’t find the information they need.”  

You can download the full report here.