Polo Ralph Lauren Rings Up Homegrown Mobile 2-D Barcodes

Polo Ralph Lauren has launched a mobile commerce project in the United States that pushes its homegrown version of 2-D barcodes, with its Quick Response (QR) codes appearing initially on print advertisements. Some are questioning, though, whether the chain's lower priced approach might limit the number of consumer phones that can access the related content.

The idea behind 2-D barcodes is straight-forward: Consumers download a small application onto their phones and then can use the phone's digital camera to "see" 2-D barcodes on ads, mannequins, posters and even drink coasters. This barcode then brings up a browser that displays lots of information about the topic.

The idea of 2-D barcodes has brought inquiries from Best Buy, the Gap, Target, Nordstrom and Procter & Gamble and trials at Sears and Nike. An alternative approach that makes similar marketing claims—Near-Field Communications (NFC)—has been the subject of trials by Jack In The Box, Loblaw, Sony and 7-Eleven.

But Polo Ralph Lauren's approach is homegrown versions of open-source applications. "It was all done by our internal team," said Polo Ralph Lauren's corporate communications director, Ryan Lally. "We do have an amazing in-house team that pulls these kinds of things together."

The deployment will support nine mobile phone carriers, according to Polo Ralph Lauren's Web site: AT&T, Alltel, Boost, Cellular One, Nextel, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular and Verizon. But some outside the retailer questioned just how many phones would actually be able to support Polo Ralph Lauren's homegrown version.

The issue of supporting a 2-D barcode typically involves the resolution of the digital camera in the phone as well as the platform/OS of that phone. Generally, CR codes are much more detailed than what some 2-D merchants—such as Scanbuy and StoreXperience—sell. That can mean that the barcode itself might need to be larger (to accommodate that much more information), which would require cameras able to support a higher resolution. Lally didn't say what the required resolution was.

"The more pixels in a three-quarter inch square, the harder it is for a camera to pick it up," said David Javitch, Scanbuy's marketing VP, who admittedly would rather have had Polo Ralph Lauren pay the company to use its own 2-D application.

That said, Javitch added that the retailer's decision would likely limit its choice to a small number of smartphones, which he said would likely exclude some 93 percent of the U.S. population of cellphone users.

Javitch said he tried the Polo Ralph Lauren code with a BlackBerry and it "worked OK," but it failed when he tried to use a Sprint Muziq phone.