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productgrill - barcode power

FROM: Timo

What NEED does this meet?
In theory, a free market should ensure the continual improvement of products through competition - assuming consumers always choose to buy the best quality available at lowest price. In practice however, most of us have no time or patience to do research on every small
purchase or are mislead by marketing. Large retailers are becoming increasingly
skilled at capitalising on consumer ignorance and convenience and enjoy astronomical margins in certain areas.

What is the APPROACH?
Every retail product is labelled by a unique barcode (compulsory in the EU as far as I am aware) offering a quick link to information. Texting the number underneath the barcode to a
"product grilling service" could provide immediate information about the product, empowering the consumer to make a more conscious choice and increasing competitive pressure. Information would be collected though reviews from previous buyers and consumer rights orgs. It would include an easy-to-follow and standardised list of the following:
a) average product rating (poor to excellent) b) price range, price history, estimated profit margin c) alternative outlets + prices d) similar products + ratings e) ethical information f) manufacturer name and description The approach is distinctive in that it combines mobile phone and barcode technologies.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
Shopping will much more relaxing and fun! Almost everyone would benfit from the service. Shoddy products and rip-offs will gradually disappear from the market. Not knowing which of 12 different olive oils to choose or buying a PC cable from high street for 15 pounds only to find out later it was 50p at the corner shop will be a thing of the past.

What is the COMPETITION?
There are various specialist test magazines, online reviews and consumer rights organisations. "Stiftung Warentest" has already
been very popular with consumers in Germany for many years if only for a limited range of products. Buyer reviews are already commonplace on internet shops. Ebay already acts as a powerful tool for price comparison. However, productgrill would be a novelty not in the information it provides, but in its speed, accuracy and convenience.
How many of us have a review magazine at hand when trying on sunglasses
in a department store?

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
A server will be required accommodate the barcode database and send/receive text messages.
Fairly expensive but cost could be covered by charging a tiny fee on every text message recieved. Cooperation with consumer rights groups/government and compilation of database would require a small number of full-time workers. People could be encouraged to send reviews by offering a "conscious consumer of the year" award to most prolific reviewer. If the scheme turns out to be successful, it could be improved by manufacturing mobile phones equipped with integrated barcode scanners. Maybe one day even with radio-frequency tag detectors capable of reviewing a whole shelf in one go. (Beat the retail giants with their own methods!)
Can be implemented EU-wide or even worldwide.

November 4, 2003 in Corporate Social Responsibility, Empowering Consumers, User Created Content | Permalink


Great idea! And similar to mine and two other people's on here. Mine, 'Brand Facts': http://mysociety.blogs.com/mysociety/2003/10/brand_facts.html and the other two, however, don't put the onus on new legislation for such a service to work, as yours does. My idea sees a database full of information on products on companies, allowing easy lookup, including by texting, say 'toothpaste ethics top 10' which will give you the top ten toothpaste brands based upon an ethics scale.

So there's now four different people here wanting roughly the same thing. Let's make it happen!!!

Posted by: Jake at Nov 4, 2003 10:41:57 AM

Why not make it a web service. Then the open source community could build all sorts of applications on top of it.

Posted by: Nigel at Nov 5, 2003 10:06:08 AM

If this were on a website accessible from a WAP phone (or other mobile device) then you could type in the barcode no. while you were in the shop and instantly know whether it was an ethical product to purchase.
(And once it was established there might be a market for phones with built-in barcode readers!!)

Posted by: Mike Brophy at Nov 5, 2003 3:06:02 PM

Just imagine a location aware application on your mobile that presents you with a list of other local shops that sell the product just typed in. The list of shops could be ranked according to how ethical the shop is based upon some kind of voting system.

Also, if available, the list could be sorted based on price entered by previous shoppers. It could work like a sort of competition so people look at the current lowest price paid for a product in their local town and then try to beat it. A big sense of satisfaction is the prize. For expensive purchases you're more likely to research the product beforehand, so before popping down to the shops check for the cheapest highstreet price. This is redundant if someone is happy to purchase online as they could use kelkoo but a lot of people I know prefer to buy from a shop for convenience.

Posted by: Nick Rowlands at Nov 5, 2003 5:34:37 PM

Like all of you I think this a great idea. For this to work from a mobile platform (eg WAP, bluetooth or 802.11) there would need to be a major reduction in service charges. Also whats ethical to say you or me may be different to whats ethical for Jim. As for Nick's comment on people prefering a shop for conveinence, I also prefer shops, but not for convenience, but because I like to actually look at what I am buying (unless its a DVD or computer hardware etc). This could also be linked with "How do I get there?" and allow people to make an enquiry on their mobile in say Woolworths and for the resopnse to be "exit the shop turn left, walk until you get to the "fish" graffiti, then turn right etc".

Posted by: chris brown at Nov 7, 2003 5:16:20 PM

James Patten, a PhD candidate in MIT, created the Corporate Fallout Detector, a device which is similar to what you're talking about.

It's certainly a great idea, and probably even a marketable service, the problem is how we could get it running.

Posted by: Kevin Cannon at Nov 11, 2003 2:43:44 PM

What a wonderful idea! How much product information could be comfortably relayed on a mobile 'phone screen, though? Also, how static are barcodes? How long will it take for information to become outdated? Would a better model be to have a low-enough entry barrier that any full-time team are editors rather than producers of the information-- there is an incredible number of products, even if this is restricted to groceries? Is it feasible to have WAP/SMS/www access to the same database, allowing people to use a proper keyboard to contribute reviews?

Posted by: Derwin McGeary at Nov 17, 2003 9:41:33 PM