In yet another effort to cross-pollinate mobile with traditional retail channels, a handful of major retail chains—Target (NYSE:TGT), Staples (NASDAQ:SPLS), Toys R Us and Ace Hardware—have signed up to let customers buy from their catalogs and newspaper ads by scanning pictures with their phones.
How is this different from scanning QR codes? The system the chains are using is an iOS app called Pounce, which uses image-recognition instead of a barcode to identify what product the shopper's camera is pointing at. It's specifically designed for use with pictures in print catalogs and ad inserts, rather than actual products in the real world where lighting and product angle might make machine recognition difficult at best.
Once the image is scanned, the app displays the product's details and price, and allows one-click purchasing. That makes it a more limited version of image-recognition app functions that Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) are already offering.
On the other hand, those functions are largely a novelty for the online giants, which always have the out of offering mobile shoppers lots of similar items that may be nowhere close to a perfect match. The goal for Pounce is to actually identify the product in a more natural way than snapping a QR code.
Will this approach work? So far Pounce's vendor, BuyCode, has signed up a few major chains, so there's at least some serious interest on the retailer side. But image recognition is tricky, and setting customer expectations is critical. In the case of a picture in a catalog, most of the information that the Pounce app will flash is already right there in the catalog. That means it's really easy for a shopper to tell whether the app got it right. (At least one early review we saw of Pounce said it mistook a Toshiba laptop for a desktop PC and got prices wrong.)
Shoppers may have concluded that Amazon's and eBay's versions are useless, but they may have a much more negative reaction if Pounce is frequently not just useless, but wrong.
- See this Business Insider story
Will Another Snap-A-Picture-To-Identify-A-Product App Help?
QR Codes Are A Terrible Idea. Why Is Image Recognition Even Worse?