Why Scandit Wants To Go Beyond The Barcode

Commerce is everywhere, which means barcodes are everywhere. Smart devices? They’re everywhere, too. Internet of Things (IoT) — well, by now, everything is going to be connected, or is already. Marry the devices, the barcode and the constant communication that is the hallmark of IoT, amid data driven by machine learning (ML) and augmented reality (AR), and firms can get better at keeping what consumers want in stock … and consumers have an easier time of finding (and buying!) what they need.

With roots in mobile data capture, mobile barcode scanning and mobile self-checkout for retail and other verticals, Swiss firm Scandit said it wants to bring “the Internet of Things to Everyday Objects” — in essence, boosting the ways existing barcodes work and giving insight into everything from inventory to self-checkout.

Last month, it raised $30 million in a Series B funding round that was led by Google’s GV arm. The total raised by Scandit comes to $43 million. The nine-year-old company said it will look to accelerate global expansion, and build on a client roster that includes Macy’s, Bed Bath & Beyond and a host of others, helping them leverage mobile workflows and embrace computer vision and AR in their enterprises, with an eye on handling inventory with aplomb and lowering costs.

In an interview with Samuel Mueller, CEO of Scandit, the executive told PYMNTS that the regional expansion of the company’s efforts will take focus beyond North America and Europe into Latin America and Asia-Pacific.

Along the way toward that expansion, there is a sea change afoot, especially within retail, one that leverages the power of the mobile device that, of course, is equipped with a camera. The company’s data-capture platform, well, captures everything from barcodes to data provided through the cloud, to image recognition. The scanning software can be integrated across devices and apps. Augmented reality functions can overlay product information onto the physical items from clothes to packages that line store shelves or warehouse pallets, giving the user a wealth of information in one glance.

Scandit touches the retail experience continuum across vendors and buyers, spanning functions as far-flung as shipping, receiving and proof of delivery, all the way to mobile shopping and self-checkout. The company has been using Microsoft HoloLens and wearable display tech in warehouse settings, letting workers glean information about inventory on screens or goggles.

For companies, the data helps manage inventory and supply chains with greater efficiency.

eCommerce, in the Store

For the user, think of it as an eCommerce experience in an in-store setting, said the CEO, but which can be extended to logistics, healthcare and government. Computer vision, Mueller said, “offers the universal means to identify the presence of an object, identify what type of object it might be and then keep track of it,” all while the person wielding Scandit’s technology looks at the object from various perspectives, locations and angles.

The movement to that holistic, data-rich view has come as barcode scanners have evolved, moving toward mobile devices and phones that have cameras, of course making information capture possible. For Scandit, he said, barcode scanning can represent a jumping-off point for retailers seeking to enhance in-store productivity and the consumer experience.

“Barcodes do represent an interesting and super relevant technology to start with,” Mueller told PYMNTS. “We do start with a barcode sort of mindset because they are so universal [in commerce] and, in some sense, simple pieces of identification technology because they are so cheap to print and highly standardized. [They] are literally on every consumer product.”

At the same time, he noted the ubiquitous nature of mobile devices carried by retailers’ employees and consumers alike. It’s a universality that, as he said, “democratizes the use of the relevant applications across the workforce or the customer base,” and fosters a seismic shift in terms of data accessible to both parties.

If one thinks about how things were done in retail traditionally, he said: There would be barcode scanning capabilities embedded into the point of sale and checkout lanes, then there would be a handful or two of dedicated scanning devices in the back room or under the till for the worker to find and use in taking stock of what might be in the back room or on shelves.

The Amazon Effect

That turns out to be a dated approach, he told PYMNTS, in a world where we are used to having access to real-time data or where Amazon has, well, an Amazon effect.

With Amazon, he said “we see inventory levels and alternatives to what we are searching for different articles, colors, sizes and availability.” The advent of the app (and of software such as Scandit’s) allows for associates to scan items on the shelves and find those same alternatives if needed, and even have items shipped to different stores to pick up.

“This is a dramatic improvement in the customer experience that can be created by empowering the associate with the right information at the right time,” he told PYMNTS.

This comes against the backdrop where customers are becoming more used to gathering information via their own mobile devices before making transactions. They may, in fact, be more comfortable with this info than talking to an associate. With the aid of a data-rich experience, said Mueller, eCommerce comes to the brick-and-mortar aisles.

When asked by PYMNTS about the computer vision component, Mueller likened the immersive process to the popular Pokémon Go. Point the device at an item on a shelf, and one suddenly sees shelves with relevant information overlays over products  “instead of monsters, you see what the other colors are and what other, similar products are there,” he said.

To build out that very experience, what must a retailer do? Mueller contended that moving from a mobile-focused scanning model toward a computer vision model is a process that starts with low hanging fruit  and that it is easy to empower the associates with Scandit’s offerings.

“It’s a matter of a few lines of code and a few hours of development work and testing … this is something that retailers can embrace easily and quickly,” he told PYMNTS. He said Scandit has experience working with the large retail-focused system integrators that can leverage new technologies and build out solutions quickly.

Mueller added, “You get a sense of the incredibly transformative power that camera-based scanning and computer vision can bring to an in-store setting. The retailers build out a better experience competing in the retail arena, and against eCommerce players as well.”