GS1: 10 Percent Of Mobile Barcode Info Wrong

When GS1 U.S. and GS1 Canada on Tuesday (Nov. 16) formally unwrapped a coalition of many of the world's largest consumer goods manufacturers to address accurate product data, it mentioned that "more than 10 percent of searches for information about allergens, nutritional characteristics or other data return incorrect or incomplete results." There are reports of even higher percentages of problems with pricing data.

The issue behind those inaccuracies is actually the meteoric rise of mobile. It didn't make much sense for the industry to hammer out mobile pricing and data consistency issues before mobile marketshare was meaningful. Now that it's soaring, retailers suddenly have shoppers scanning information in the aisles that comes from a huge number of independent databases. All things considered, it's impressive that the inaccuracy figures aren't a lot worse.

The coalition is not dealing with pricing accuracy and is fully focused on product data, especially information such as allergen interactions, ingredients, expiration dates, product dimensions, recalls, instructions, etc.

It's that kind of information that is accurate only about 90 percent of the time, GS1 U.S. said, citing an Auto-ID Lab report, prepared for the coalition. The group is called The Business to Consumer (B2C) Alliance and includes several major consumer goods manufacturers, including Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, J.M. Smucker, Johnson & Johnson and Kraft Foods. One retailer—Kroger—is also a member and other retailers are also involved, although they have asked that their names not be made public, GS1 said.

The B2C group was actually formed back in March and was known internally as the Mobile Effort until June, said Gay Whitney, GS1 U.S.'s Senior VP for industry engagement.

The data inaccuracies stem from the way the data is maintained. If a consumer, for example, uses an iPhone to launch a barcode-scanning application such as RedLaser or ScanBuy, that application doesn't do a lookup against the databases of either the manufacturer or the retailer, but instead uses a wide range of third-party sources, Whitney said.

On the pricing front, Whitney said her group is not focusing there right now. "Pricing is a very challenging issue. It's very fluid, very dynamic, almost non-standardizable," she said. "The search engines are working very hard in that space."

Although the group is not focusing on that pricing, it did crop up at one of the group's meetings this summer in Boston. While Whitney was presenting, some members were in the back of the room running an experiment. They were using a smartphone and scanning various products around the room, according to two participants in the meeting and confirmed by Whitney.

A bottle of Coca-Cola was scanned by an iPhone and it was identified as a blanket, said those participants, who added that a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi was then scanned and it returned no data. Whitney did not confirm the brands involved, as she was in the front of the room presenting at the time. One participant said that the unscientific sampling of consumer products scanned in the room that day had "the vast majority coming through (with) incorrect" information, including pricing.

As indicated by the group's original working title, mobile is overwhelmingly making these database issues critical. But now that mobile is forcing the data to be updated and made consistent, it is likely to be used on the Web and leveraged with desktop devices as often—if not more often—than through mobile devices.