Digimarc makes your barcode disappear
According to Digimarc partner and imager maker Datalogic, the new digital watermarking process could speed up scanning time by a least a third and therefore the whole checkout process at your local store. The innovation is currently being tested by Walmart in its innovation Lab 415-C and has been praised by CEO Doug McMillon, which in the retailing world is akin to being knighted by the Queen. Wegmans already prints the digital watermarks on its own label products.
"The technology allows scanners to immediately read from as many as 200 invisible barcodes all over, for instance, a box of cereal," says Digimarc boss Bruce Davis. This represents a great improvement on the conventional method of one barcode per package for 10m items world-wide.
Davis is bullish about his new technology and also believes that checkouts could be eliminated entirely when shopping trolleys are equipped with scanners. This in turn could equate to substantial annual labour cost savings for the retailer. Sounds like a good ROI?
According to the manufacturer, customers can also use a Digimarc-enabled app on their mobile device, scan packaging on the shelf or at home and connect with interactive mobile content, such as product information, special offers, recommendations, and recipes etc.
This would also enable retailers and brands to engage with consumers and collect customer preference data.
The technology is fascinating in itself as it doesn't require special inks or printers. The secret lies in an algorithm that transforms the printed data into minute dots, which convey the required information. These can be read by an imager equipped with appropriate software. Put more simply, the new system is a successor to laser technology.
This pattern contains the same Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN) data currently carried in the product's UPC/EAN symbol and is repeated multiple times over the entire package. So checkout clerks and shoppers using self-checkout can quickly pass packages over the POS scanner without having to first orient the UPC/EAN symbol to the reader.
Surrealism at the checkout
All this is surely good news for consumers who have to endure a current industry average scanning rate for traditionally barcoded packaging of only 21 IPM (Items Per Minute).
In fact, we customers often have to face such long and tedious queues at the till that one could easily gain the impression that retailers believe we enjoy the process of parting with our hard-earned money and want to savour the moment for as long as possible.
Some German retailers, after tracking our every move via CCTV, also oblige us to show that our shopping bags are empty. This demeaning procedure seems to completely reverse the generally accepted principle that all citizens are presumed innocent before the law until proven guilty.
While going through this soulless rigamarole, one is all too often forced to endure the sight of stressed and harrassed checkout staff fighting a losing battle with crumpled or soggy packaging in a vain attempt to straighten out a bar code.
The frequently semi-effaced imprint is drawn time and again with ever increasing frustration over the scanner bed, only for the till operator to give up with a sigh or curse. Then, with a final flourish, which reveals the retail torturer as a true artist, a long and miniscule product code has to be entered and sometimes re-entered manually into the system.
Of course, retailers will argue that they now also provide the free-spirited techies among us with self-scanning tills, but more on this harrowing ordeal, as it is imposed on Mr. & Ms Average by most retailers, another time.
So back to the checkout: Given our everyday exercise in patience, anything that will lighten the load for us time-poor, convenience-oriented consumers is surely to be welcomed. Digimarc, if what you say is true, and your magic bar code disappearing act is for real, then, Hallelujah, we want to shake your hand.
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