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Digital watermark-enabled packaging speeds checkout

Digital watermark-enabled packaging speeds checkout
The Digimarc is a seamless, invisible UPC code added to the entire packaging surface.

Problem: Nearly 90% of U.S. adults want faster retail checkout. Solution: Digimarc full-coverage digital watermarks encode UPC data invisibly and repeatedly over the entire surfaces of packages.

Many of us can relate to the results of a Harris Poll sponsored by Digimarc published in July that found:

  • 88% of U.S. adults want their retail checkout experience to be faster;
  • 61% agree that clerks focus most on scanning items and less on finding out if they’re satisfied;
  • A combined 50% identify slow checkouts and long lines as top grievances;
  • Nearly 45% avoid self-checkout because of technical or barcode scanning difficulties;
  • 30% feel like a burden to the clerk and others when they have a full cart;
  • Consumers want to scan product packaging with their smartphones to learn more.

“Checkout is the last opportunity a retailer has to make a positive impression on a shopper,” states Larry Logan, chief marketing officer, Digimarc. “Asking customers to endure a lengthy wait to process and pay for their order can spoil what may have otherwise been an enjoyable shopping experience.”

Digimarc offers a solution in the form of digital watermarks with encoded UPC data that are invisibly and repeatedly over the entire surfaces of packages.

With the tagline “the barcode of everything,” Digimarc is something that’s intrigued me for months—and the release of this study provided the ideal opportunity to learn more in this Q&A with Logan:

What’s the background on your technology? And does it replace a Universal Product Code?

Logan: Digimarc Barcode was introduced in January of 2014. It is based on deterministic digital identification technology that has been used for security, counterfeit deterrence, audience measurement and more since the 1990s. It is just as accurate as the UPC. In fact, the consortium of central banks has used Digimarc identification technology to deter counterfeiting worldwide since 1998.

Digimarc Barcode allows retailers and brands to encode existing UPC data invisibly and repeatedly over all surfaces of packages and also variable weight labels (such as at the deli counter), dramatically improving ease, reliability and speed of scanning by point-of-sale (POS) readers.

Ideally, Digimarc Barcode would be used to replace the UPC symbol, but retailers also have the option of using it as a supplement. With the entire package scannable with Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) data, POS systems can quickly identify the product regardless of how the cashier or self-checkout shopper orients the item in relation to the reader, paving the way for shorter lines, better customer service and improved margins.

In addition to performing the identification, pricing and inventory functions of the traditional UPC, the new barcode gives brands and retailers their own dedicated channel to connect with consumers. Consumers can simply point their phones at any side of the product packaging—no hunting for the UPC symbol or a quick-response (QR) code—and instantly be connected to a rich content experience from a retailer or brand including health information, recipes, how-to videos, promotional offers and more.

What’s the level of interest?  

Logan: As shared at NRF 2015, Wegmans is the first retailer to adopt Digimarc Barcode. Additional trials are in process with other retailers and national brands.

What’s needed by brand owners to do this on their packaging?

Logan: Digimarc Barcode requires no special inks and no special printing process. Brands and retailers can continue to use their current package and product suppliers, and the one-time embedding process does not materially affect the printing workflow. Digimarc Barcode also does not burden each additional unit with a cost, such as RFID. The one-time setup fee can be amortized over millions of printed packages including [corrugated], cans, paper or plastic containers. Almost any packaging can be enabled to engage with customers and speed up checkout.

What needs to be done by packaging vendors?

Logan: The new barcode leverages existing workflows and databases for product identification and inventory control systems. To ensure quality and reduce impact on retailers’ and brand owners’ production workflow, Digimarc provides the following services:

  • Digimarc Barcode Encoding: Using an experienced team of pre-press professionals, Digimarc or a certified solutions provider (like Southern Graphics Services) applies the Digimarc Barcode to packaging to ensure the best readability with both fixed Digimarc-enabled POS scanners and mobile applications. The service optimizes readability while preserving the integrity of the packaging design.
  • Digimarc Barcode Quality Grading: Using a standard set of commercially available Digimarc-enabled POS imaging scanners and mobile devices, all Digimarc-enabled packages are certified reliable and ready for distribution into the supply chain.

See the Digimarc Barcode Process workflow illustration:

What’s needed by retailers?

Logan: Retailers wanting to enable their private label brands would use the same workflow described above. To take advantage of faster checkout, the retailer would need to have Digimarc-enabled image based POS scanners deployed. The Digimarc Barcode detection solution is a software change to the existing image based scanner so the upgrade process is as simple as a firmware/software upgrade.

What’s needed by consumers?

Logan: Consumers simply download the Digimarc Discover or enabled store app to their mobile device. Retailers and brands can add Digimarc detection capability using our iOS/Android software development kit.

What’s the biggest hurdle to gaining adoption?
Logan: The UPC has been trusted for over four decades. Luckily the evolution of technology and POS scanners are opening retailers’ eyes to the possibility of a better way to manage retail checkout, product inventory, and improve the overall shopper experience. Digimarc Barcode detection at POS requires an image-based scanner, which the retail industry is already transitioning to.

For more information visit the Digimarc website.

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