Fifty Shades of Gray in The Bar Code Industry - Can we not just be 'plain vanilla'?


What does BDSM have to do with bar code devices?  For anyone who doesn't know, there’s a popular erotica series that’s on the bestseller lists for several years,   called “Fifty Shades of Grey”.    The protagonist’s name is Grey, and he’s a bright, young, super-successful CEO and control freak.  He’s into BDSM and revels in being a Dominant.     It was written up in a Wall Street Journal article.

 50 Shades of Gray Bar Code Scanners

What’s the connection between BDSM and the barcode world?  It’s the plain vanilla bar code scanners that we’ve all been looking at for the last thirty years.   They come in fifty shades of gray – white, off-white, putty, gray, black,etc.

When I look at them, one word comes to mind… B O R I N G

You see, although I’m a huge bar code enthusiast, lately I find it increasingly difficult to get aroused over yet another model of bar code scanner.    (Granted, there are pills I could take for that – my Inbox is full of unsolicited offers for them).  I know I’m not alone in this category.    But, if a bar code evangelist like myself is not getting aroused by new scanners,  it’s hard to imagine that end-users will.

So, how about seeing some bar code scanners in a rich red, eco-green, banana yellow, or hot pink color for variety?   Or maybe bar code readers that we decorate and re-decorate, like changing the band on a wrist watch

The bar code scanner consumer is no longer submissive

Today’s consumer is increasingly pro-active about his/her technology.   People are constantly spending money to jazz up their cellphones and tablets at those kiosks in the mall.  They line up to plunk money down to personalize their phones.   We could do that in our industry.    How about a faux diamond covered soft case for a scanner?   Or synthetic fur?   How about a black leather cover for a bar code reader?

What about a special rock star edition scanner – like “The Lady Gaga Bar Code  scanner” ?    (Don’t hip retailers ever ask for these things???)    What rock star wouldn’t want his name visible at the checkout counter of a music store at the mall?

Perhaps GameStop would be interested in a Star Wars edition bar code reader that looked like a Jedi light saber! OMG – what if that scanner had a hum like a light saber when it came on?   Ohhh what a rush that would be!


(I’m getting worked up here…)




Getting Buzzed

Get rid of the beep??    What if the end- user could program the scanners with fifty varieties of buzz, or ring tone – maybe a riff from a hot new song, instead of that boring beep?     What if that was programmable from the corporate office – would record labels pay vendors to have those riffs ringing at the record stores on demand, with every scan?   Heck, why limit it to record stores?

You see, improvements such as making a scanner 6.21% lighter, or 13.2796% faster, or compliant with the latest IEEE_802.11 standard,  do not get the endorphins flowing in normal people.      Engineers may get aroused, but in this brave new world where everything plugs together by USB connections that three year olds can handle -  I’d suggest that engineers will control a shrinking percentage of purchasing decisions.



It may be time to think about seducing,

enticing and stimulating the end-user.


Flogging the bar code industry?

I didn’t write this article to take a whip to the bar code industry.     What I want to encourage is innovation that gets a response on a visceral level!

SO, here’s my challenge to the engineering and marketing departments of the bar code world:  Get outside the box.  Explore the hard and soft limits.  (Safely,  sanely and consensually , please.)

What you think might be painful, may turn out to bring significant pleasure (sales and profits)!


(Meanwhile readers,  you can discreetly download and read 50 Shades of Grey on your Kindle, iPhone, iPad, or Android device.  No one will know, and for sure, you don’t want to be left out of the conversation at the water cooler.  Men – your wife’s book club will be reading it.  Borrow it when she’s done. )


Written by Craig Aberle 

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Also on this topic- “Why bar codes don’t get respect”.