Science & Technology»Mobile phone barcode app to help ethical shoppers
»Wednesday, April 7,2010
An innovative mobile phone app could create a new generation of ethical shoppers by allowing them to check a company's social responsibility rating and environmental credentials.
Barcoo, developed by a group of young Germans, allows customers to point their phones at the barcode on products in shops and find out information such as how environmentally friendly a company is and even how it treats its staff.
Its makers say the app is intended to motivate the world to shop more ethically and to empower the consumer.
The Barcoo package also includes an extension of the price-comparison service already available on other apps that has sparked a "savvy shopping" trend, whereby the customer can find out how the cost of a product compares with similar items being sold in the same area. Maps are provided to show the alternative locations.
The app also provides the electronic version of grocery "traffic light" signals, which show how healthy a product is, as well as giving dietary and allergy advice.
But the ethical ranking of a company is what has caused Barcoo to catch the attention of consumer watchdogs in particular, who have praised it for encouraging transparency.
Barcoo, a free download, claims to measure corporate social responsibility or the practice of operating with the so-called triple bottom line, where success is measured not just in terms of profits, but also by how a company treats its staff and its level of environmental awareness. The information is gleaned from a range of sources, such as company statements, and recognised social responsibility studies, as well as from user feedback.
A test scan of a 400g bag of nuts and raisins showed that its producer had a red (low) ranking in the sustainability stakes, but a top ranking (green) in terms of its carbon footprint, and a middle ranking (amber) regarding the way it treated its staff.
Its sugar and fat content were shown to be dangerously high.
Benjamin Thym, 29, a business science graduate who created the product with a former schoolfriend, Tarik Tokic, said he hoped Barcoo would contribute to social responsibility and empower consumers.
"Our mission is to give transparency to consumers and to allow them to be critical while they are shopping," he said.
"Just by scanning a product, they get a whole bundle of information.
"With many customers, there's a huge gulf between what they want and what they get, and while most say they are critical consumers very few practise this when in a shop."
The use of apps for mobile phones while shopping has grown in the last couple of years, spreading from the home to the shop the practice of comparing prices via the internet.
Some retail organisations have reacted defensively by looking at the possibility of introducing mobile phone jamming devices in an attempt to quash the practice, which they say arms the consumer with too much information.
But many marketing experts, citing the example of how the music and film industries tried to destroy the downloading market at their peril, have said that retailers should instead find ways to embrace the trend.