The 2D bar codes

Everyone knows what a “bar code” is. They are those thick and thin black and white lines appearing on almost all your grocery packing material, boxes of electronic gadgets, books, bills, receipts and even on travel/movie tickets. You can find them on almost every possible product packing material. It is used to represent a small amount of data like Serial Number or SKU relating to the product it is being used on and can be read using a barcode scanner. These are the 1D bar codes.

So, what are 2D bar codes and how are they different? 2D bar codes pack in much more data than the conventional 1D bar codes. Unlike 1D bar codes, the 2D bar codes resemble a square block scattered with random black dots. They can contain anything from a simple line of text or numbers to more detailed information like business cards and product specifications. There are many types of 2D bar codes like QR Code, Data Matrix code, Aztec Code, Tag Bar Code, PDF417 and EZcode to name a few. But the most widely used ones are the QR Code and Data Matrix Code.

One of the main objectives of using QR Codes is to take people from the physical world to the digital world. Using a smartphone with a camera and a QR Code scanning application, one can scan QR Codes that appear on print and can get more information on the product or service as text on the phone or be taken to a mobile friendly web page that provides additional information. It may also allow the user to call a pre-defined phone number from the QR Code.

Imagination of the user is the limit that defines the different ways in which the QR Code can be used. I have always been interested in bringing QR Code into e-commerce. The following is a case that I have been working on personally and I call it “Scan to Buy”.

What is this “Scan to Buy”? Imagine you are walking down a road or traveling somewhere and you suddenly come across a hoarding that has an advertisement for a newly launched mobile phone available at a discount of 20% and also has a large QR Code printed on it with the caption “Scan to Buy”. 20% discount is a great deal and you want to buy it right away. You immediately scan the QR Code on your smartphone. By the time you get back home, the mobile phone that you had seen in the advertisement is already delivered at home. All that happened without you having to switch on your laptop, visiting the online store, placing an order and making a payment.

So, how did all that happen? The buyer just got connected to a digital technology service through a physical world object. That’s where we get into the technical part without exposing the complexities to the end user. When the buyer scanned the QR Code on the smartphone, it immediately triggers an SMS with the necessary keywords to the e-store. The e-store uses the buyer’s mobile number for authentication and at the same time understands what the he wants to buy. If the buyer is already a registered user of the e-store, the buyer’s address is available in the database otherwise the e-store queries the Mobile Service Provider’s customer database to get the address of the buyer. Once this is done, the product requested by the buyer is added to the shopping cart and the order is placed with the selected payment option being cash on delivery. Once an order is placed, a confirmation SMS is sent to the user (in addition to sending the confirmation through email) and the order details are forwarded either to the vendor or to the logistics department who take care of delivering the product to the user and collect the payment. Like all e-commerce systems, the “Scan to Buy” system too has its own advantages and disadvantages. Never-the-less it disconnects the user from a web based e-store while still keeping them still connected to the services through physical world objects that have these QR Codes.

This idea may not be far from reality. It may be just a matter of time before we start seeing and using QR Codes extensively for e-commerce.

Shanmuga Prabu is a software engineer at Compassites. He has experience in developing e-commerce applications in which he has spent the last 5 years. Prior to Compassites, he has worked with Wifin Technologies at Chennai where he handled mobile application development and e-commerce projects. Shan also enjoys travelling and photography.

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