Readers of this column know I love it - serendipity. The word is so good I'd love it all by itself, but it's also one of life's little pleasures. (In case you don't know, serendipity is a "happy accident," or "pleasant surprise." I most often think of it in terms of a chance series of discoveries.) On a rather more boring than usual early January day, I was lucky enough to stumble on a little serendipity.
Most often, there isn't really any reason why these things are fun and interesting, but there's no doubt that the Internet has made them far more accessible. Yes, I admit it, I was one of those people who'd go to a library and simply stroll around, looking for the odd book spine that would attract my attention - or thumbing through magazines I'd rarely see to "discover." Later, of course, Barnes & Nobel would do just fine and a cup of coffee, too. But better yet, of course, is simply sitting at your computer and happening on things. This was how I first fell in love with the Internet.
There's even a site dedicated to just that - we've covered that here before. It's called "StumbleUpon," and it's a free-but-subscription-based service that allows users to define subjects that interest them, then "stumble." Content is randomly served up, which users can then rate to "teach" the system their preferences - what amuses or amazes.
Today, I was actually reading through some of the many email newsletters I get (and typically delete). This one happened to be discussing QR codes - again, a subject we've covered in this column. These are the pattern codes associated with products or services that can be scanned by your smart phone, and then that scan used to access more information, such as price comparisons, about that product or service.
The article (from Mobile Insider) was touting the potential of in-store use of QR codes, but acknowledging that unreliable wireless reception was the biggest stumbling block to customers' relying on QR codes to gather information, and next was that old reliable: attention span! While marketers love-love-love the idea of consumers standing in the aisles looking at all the rich content they make available that explains why their product is better-than-great, consumers are not so apt to be easily transfixed. (Actually, have you ever watched customers in a mall or big box store? They're transfixed, alright, but they just keep moving. It's apparently some sort of herd instinct, but I digress.)
What writer Steve Smith finds is that now that (especially tech) store associates understand how to use them, QR codes can be useful sales tools, particularly when they don't understand the product very well.
So where does the serendipity come in? Well naturally, I had to find out a bit more about QR codes, and code-reading in general, and came across this site: www.evoretail.com. Here is a company devoted to retail robotics - and their latest-and-greatest product is something called LaneHawk. LaneHawk is a bar-code-reader that stores can build into the lower part of a checkout counter, and it will read "BOB" items - bottom of basket. So if the customer forgets, or "forgets" to bring the item up and scan it, LaneHawk will read the item's barcode - compare it to the customer's itemized order - and let the store know if the item hasn't been paid for yet.
Who'd have ever guessed?