Interviews Big in Japan's (ShopSavvy) Alexander Muse The penetration of bar code reading on cell phones seems to be much greater in Japan as compared to the US.  Why is that?

Muse: Barcode reading (i.e., 1D barcodes) actually has much greater penetration in the U.S. than Japan.  2D barcode reading is bigger in Japan because 2D was adopted by NTT, primarily because it can hold up to 1817 Japanese letters (i.e., Kanji/Kana). This feature has only recently gained traction in the United States.  Google’s announcement of their Favorite Places program offering 2D barcodes to more than 190,000 retailers was a huge step to the adoption of QR Codes (i.e. 2d barcodes) in U.S. retail settings.  As a result, in our 3.6 version of ShopSavvy we have included QR Code scanning. There have been some trials of 2D bar code reading and promotion in the U.S., but we do not see advertisers flocking to the technology here.

Muse: I would tend to agree, but with the support of Google things may be changing.  While 2D codes are a legacy (i.e. prior to the WWW) technology, Google is hoping to breathe life into QR Codes, and as a result applications like ShopSavvy are beginning to include support for QR Code scanning.  The jury is still out on QR Codes in retail, but there is no disputing that 1D UPC barcodes ARE a major factor in retail shopping. What age groups or market segments are adopting the technology the fastest?

Muse: Women scan 1D UPC barcodes the most, while 2D seems to be dominated by younger, technically savvy males. The primary use of the 2D bar code seems to be for marketing.    Do you think that is the best use of the technology?   What other uses would you like to see developed?

Muse: I would argue that in the U.S. 2D codes are not used in marketing as much as supply chain.  Look at any FedEx or UPC package; they have 2D codes.  They are easy to read at any angle and from a long distance.  1D codes require the scanner to get up close and personal. Less than one percent of the 2D usage in the world is non-supply chain related (i.e. marketing).

GS1 (the barcode standards folks) have added 2D as a standard to allow for extended packaging for members  (mainly in EU and Asia) who want to tie ingredient, carbon and social data to items.  Google’s Favorite Places program seeks to ‘tag’ locations with 2D codes that point to underlying information.  In some cases the information is historical or informative, and in others it is retail related – i.e. coupons.  Google hopes 2D codes can allow for the creation of a new ranking system called PlaceRank.  There is a good chance that 2D codes will become VERY common in the near future. Is there a “killer app” coming to the cell phone?

Muse: Have you heard of ShopSavvy? (smiles)  We had close to 20 million scans on Black Friday weekend alone! Any other thoughts you’d like to share with us?

Muse: ShopSavvy has benefited from the fact that users have long associated 1D barcodes with product pricing.  For 38 years, generations have grown up watching check-out clerks scan 1D barcodes at the grocery store.  This has trained people that the 1D code has something to do with price.

There is no such cognitive connection to 2D codes in the U.S. For that matter, there is no such connection to image recognition (SnapTel-type scanning), either.  The power of 1D is embedded in thousands of transactions; it will be hard to undo.  Of course, we intend on being on the winning side of the barcode scanning and shopping space, and if the future is 2D we will be there.  Today we support 1D and 2D scanning on ShopSavvy for Android and will include 2D scanning on ShopSavvy for iPhone later this month.

The ShopSavvy application is available on most smart phones and camera phones. Some of the features include a scanning history, wish list, and price alerts for comparison shopping.

For more information about ShopSavvy and the latest updates on the application, please visit Muse’s blog at

Click here to access’s growing list of Mobile Barcode Applications for Phones, including ShopSavvy.