American Marketer


What Lowe’s 42,000 iPhones could mean to marketers

September 20, 2011

Rich Eicher is founder/CEO of Skycore


By Rich Eicher

Lowe’s recent decision to deploy 42,000 iPhones for its in-store associates is a major milestone for stakeholders in the mobile marketing and mobile commerce space (see story). Why?

Because it means that mobile’s highly sought after Holy Grail may finally come to a store near you, and not just to Lowe’s.

Scan and validate mobile coupons, vouchers and loyalty cards

Smartphones enable in-store associates to check stock, search for product information and even check-out customers anywhere in the store – all great features.

An added benefit is the capability of the smartphone’s camera to scan coupons, vouchers, loyalty cards and other mobile bar codes when presented by the shopper on their phone’s display.

Whether used for spontaneous deals pushed to consumers while mobile or for continuous use membership and loyalty rewards, the ability for stores to validate mobile bar codes makes them much more broadly applicable as a marketing tool.

What was the roadblock?

Although traditional laser scanners used by most stores cannot read mobile bar codes, the newer commercial imaging scanners can easily read them.

If stores have imaging scanners, like Starbucks, then the tracking, validation and redemption of mobile bar codes can be easily implemented at the point of sale.

However, since most stores still use laser scanners, the use of mobile bar codes has been somewhat limited, despite their benefits.

Smartphone camera as imaging scanner

If you have scanned a QR code – a type of 2D bar code – with a smartphone application then you have already used your device as an imaging scanner, most likely with a consumer app designed for shopping, contact sharing and connecting to the Internet.

There are also bar code scanning apps specifically designed for business use.

Some of these apps offer better scanning engines, integrated Web services and sophisticated administrative features.

Smartphones using these business apps offer retail managers a choice between smartphones and commercial scanners.

The ruggedness, stability and superior scanning speed of commercial imaging devices are clear.

But retailers can now weigh these benefits against the versatility and convenience of smartphones. And for the smaller retailers, there is no CAPEX since they usually already own one or more smartphone.

Why a milestone?

Though we have seen this coming for a number of years, Lowe’s decision to deploy 42,000 iPhone 4s is an extremely bold move in favor of smartphones.

The sheer scale of Lowe’s deployment will expose consumers to the technology and, more important, to the benefits enabled by the technology. Other retailers will likely follow suit.

Though the iPhone does not have built-in NFC reading capability – at least as far as we know – it’s possible that hardware accessories may enable that, if and when it becomes important.

Finally, though, smartphones will be able to read, track and validate both mobile bar codes and NFC tokens without any added hardware.

If the reports are true about the number of new smartphones expected to have NFC, then that seems that will be coming soon to a store near you, too.

Rich Eicher is founder/CEO of Skycore LLC, Boston. Reach him at