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.