Why Google Window Shopping Won't Work

Techies don't think Google will be able to repeat Japan's success at offering store reviews via outdoor bar codes

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On Monday, Google unveiled a new venture that it hopes will make the U.S. more like Japan, blurring the lines between the digital and physical worlds. In Japanese cities, it is not uncommon to encounter conspicuously pixelated, square barcodes on many physical products, advertisements, storefronts and receipts. Created in 1994, these Quick Reponse (QR) codes can now be scanned and read by the country's millions of camera-equipped mobile phones, pulling up product/store information or the official website of a merchant/marketer.

As part of its new "Favorite Places" venture, Google has snail-mailed over 100,000 businesses across the U.S. their own unique QR code stickers to put in their windows. Furthermore, the company is teaming up with developers to provide free QR readers to mobile phone customers on various networks, at least for the time being. What's Google's grand plan? That American mobile-phone customers will begin scanning the codes en-masse, relying on Google's listings to provide them everything from contact info to coupons to peer reviews to make their decisions on what to buy and where to eat in their locations. Bloggers were intrigued, but stubbornly unconvinced that America would fully embrace the concept, at least as it now appears.

  • Tell Me Something I Don't Know  MobileMarketingWatch blogger Justin wonders whether the QR code look-up of Google's "Favorite Places," would really provide a user any valuable, let alone necessary information: "When scanned, the QR codes retrieve things like a map, phone number, directions, address, reviews, and a link to the store's website, which begs the questions- why would someone need that information if they're already standing in front of the business?"
  • Unnecessary Extra Step  Martin Bryan of the Next Web notes arguably the biggest barrier to mass acceptance of QR codes; the fact that it is easier and more familiar for many people to type in the name of the business on their phones and do a Google search: "For now, QR Codes still need an explanation of what they are and how they're used whenever they're displayed. In many cases it would be quicker to just type in the URL. Marketers need to get the attention of their audience quickly. For now it's still easier to give them a snappy, memorable URL that users can go to when they're ready." Geek Smack's Braeden Petruk inquires the same thing of his readers: "Here's a question for you: would you take the time to snap a shot of the QR code and go on a company's website?"
  • One of Many  Reuters blogger Alexei Oreskovic reminds readers that in the outside world (unlike online, where display space is virtually limitless), Google's QR codes will be competing with many other physical promotions for people's attention: "The doors of restaurants and barbershops are increasingly plastered with stickers touting various online rating services, from Yelp and Citysearch to the distinctive red crest of Zagat...Let's just hope merchants have room left on their doors for another sticker." Bill Ray at the Register is of a similar mind: "[Google Favorite Places] might be a marvellous thing - rather than relying on brands (such as Premier Inn, Pizza Hut or Starbucks) one could find better local alternatives, assuming one trusts the reviews on Google. But it also makes it very difficult for competing services to get a foot in, when there's only so much space available in the business window. "
  • Google's Tried and Failed Before Sarah Perez, blogging for ReadWriteWeb, connects Google's new QR push to its "failed Print Ad program featuring barcodes for newspapers, [which] was shut down at the beginning of the year." She concedes there is an important difference: "This time, the venue isn't the old-fashioned newspaper, but local businesses." But she also faults Google for not really providing one, straightforward means of learning how to use the new feature. Since different phones require different applications, users are basically left to fend for themselves when it comes to figuring out which is the right one and how to use it: "Perhaps Google should have introduced a cross-platform barcode-scanning application of its own? If it had, it could have definitely helped push the technology adoption forward. It's almost surprising that it hasn't yet done so, especially considering that its latest search rival, Microsoft, has. With Microsoft Tag, for example, you can create your own barcode-like "Tag images," as well as download mobile, Tag-reading software."
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