What Is a Mobile Barcode?

A mobile barcode being scanned in a store

There are billions of mobile phones are in service around the world. It is the one device that virtually all your customers of all ages carry, all of the time. Your customers are always looking for new ways that this little device can make their lives easier. And one of the many technologies that has been embraced is the mobile barcode.

A mobile barcode is simply an electronic version of any barcode that can be delivered, stored and displayed on the screen of a mobile phone. While 1D or 2D barcode symbologies can be utilized, it is the 2D barcode that delivers the most value. The typical 1D barcode is a single string of numbers and letters that represent a single piece of data, such as a specific coupon. But 2D barcodes are not only much smaller, they have a much greater data capacity, enabling the collection of the detailed information required to develop more personalized and relevant offers for every one of your customers.

Mobile barcodes allow you to market directly to your customer’s personal mobile phone—the one device that is nearly always in a pocket or purse. This direct channel of communication allows you to reach your customer instantly. And with integrated GPS technology in virtually every mobile phone, you can also execute marketing programs based on the location of your customer.

Companies of all sizes can use them to create innovative marketing programs that benefit customers and the business. They can be used to create virtual loyalty cards, gift cards and coupons that customers can carry right in their mobile phones — no more plastic credit-card style cards and paper coupons to manage. And since today’s customer is already looking for ways to use their mobile phone to simplify their life, many will opt-in to marketing programs that allow you to send offers right to their mobile phones, establishing a powerful direct-to-customer channel for highly targeted promotional campaigns that are extraordinarily cost-effective — with extraordinary redemption rates.

The move towards a paperless electronic society has everyone looking for new ways that the mobile phone—the one device they always carry—can simplify their lives. Mobile barcode programs help your customers save both time and money.

Customer and business-driven mobile barcode applications

Businesses today are using mobile barcodes to replace paper coupons and game pieces as well as plastic loyalty and gift cards. But applications are limited only by your imagination. For example, you could sponsor mobile donations for local families in need at holiday time or disaster victims, or create custom-branded games for mobile phones that provide constant brand exposure to players.

How can you fully leverage mobile barcodes in your operation? And what applications can your customers adopt before you do? The following is a description of the key applications that have been launched with great success by businesses around the world — including mobile barcode applications that can be driven by your customers.

Mobile coupon programs in Retail

Mobile coupons provide your customers with real value — a discount without the hassle of locating, clipping and managing paper-based coupons. Gone are the days of arriving at a store only to remember that the coupons you so carefully saved are sitting on the kitchen counter at home. Now, coupons can be stored in the form of a barcode on a device that is always in reach — a mobile phone. No more paper coupons to lose, misplace or damage. Instead, every coupon a consumer saves is available at the press of a few buttons.

Mobile coupon campaigns are said to be highly cost-effective — and highly successful. Specifically, because there are no ads to place, no coupons to print, no mailing costs and very low administrative costs. Therefore, these programs are not only cost effective, but are good for the planet with several low waste ‘green’ programs being introduced. In addition to being cost-effective, the ability to connect to your customer in real-time in the way many now prefer to communicate via text or email is providing extraordinary redemption rates.

Pull campaigns

Allow your customers to pull your coupons in a variety of ways. Customers can send a text message from their mobile phones to instantly receive your coupons; download mobile coupons directly from the Internet to their mobile phones; add coupons from a mobile application or send mobile coupons that were downloaded on their desktop computers to their mobile phones via a text or email message.

Push campaigns

Opt-in programs provide targeted one-to-one real-time marketing campaigns that are cost effective. And if customers are willing to give you their buying preferences, they are rewarded with extra value. Instead of being bombarded with coupons they will never use; they receive coupons for items they purchase regularly or are interested in purchasing — a win-win situation for business and consumer alike.

Location-based push campaigns

Your customers can also opt to give you access to GPS location data in their mobile phone to automatically send the latest offer when they are either in the vicinity of your store or in the aisles of your store. This mobile ‘just in time’ advertising is an effective and economical way to deliver personalized timely offers that encourage customers to visit your store and make a purchase.

Mobile loyalty card programs

Today’s customer is a member of many loyalty programs, carrying a multitude of plastic credit card sized loyalty cards or a keychain full of key fobs. The loyalty card has become a staple of society, a way for businesses to reward repeat visits and continued loyalty. The mobile application-generated barcode allows you to create virtual loyalty cards that can be carried in a phone, improving customer convenience and reducing program costs.

No longer do you have to print and distribute physical loyalty cards that patrons need to track. Instead, you can simply issue a mobile barcode that is always readily available—no need for guests to search pockets and purses for the card, or for cashiers to spend time looking up the customer’s loyalty card information. Lines keep moving, and customers are always able to take advantage of loyalty card benefits—from discounts to accumulation of points for purchases.

Mobile gift card programs

Similar to mobile loyalty cards, you can offer mobile gift cards that provide benefits for purchasers and recipients. Mobile gift cards are very convenient for your customers to give and since the mobile gift card can be delivered seconds after it is purchased, it becomes an ideal last-minute gift idea. Recipients will also love their mobile gift cards. They are always just a screen tap or two away. And you can also allow recipients to look up the available balance and expiration dates on the gift card, providing an additional value-added service.

Redeeming gift cards is simple — customers just present the mobile gift card barcode to the cashier to automatically apply the credit to the purchase. Available applications also allow your customers to adopt this technology before you do. Customers who receive plastic credit-card style gift cards can use a web-based registry to store all their gift cards electronically on a single website. Your customers can then access the registry via their mobile phones, able to easily browse through a list of their gift cards, complete with available balance. At the press of a button, customers can select a mobile gift card to present at the register. So even if your store only issues credit-card style gift cards, you may still need to scan mobile barcodes at the register. Regardless of whether the recipient received a mobile gift card or transformed their plastic gift card into a mobile gift card via an aggregator website, you have established a new means of communication with your customers — an invaluable direct connection to the recipient’s mobile phone. Now you can cross-sell other mobile barcode initiatives. For example, you can invite gift card recipients to join your mobile coupon opt-in program.

The benefits of mobile barcode programs

Mobile barcodes deliver many benefits for customers and businesses alike, allowing you to:

Help your customers save time and money

With mobile barcodes, your customers no longer need to carry paper coupons and game pieces, or plastic loyalty and gift cards. Instead, all of these items can be easily carried on the one device that is always available to your customers—their mobile phone. As a result, customers never miss an opportunity to save money because a paper coupon or gift card is at home in a kitchen drawer.

Keep register lines moving

Patience is not typically a virtue for customers in a line—they are usually looking to get in and get out as quickly as possible. With Zebra’s imagers, the barcode displayed on the screen of the mobile phone can be accurately captured in a split second. Whether your customers are redeeming a coupon, presenting loyalty or gift card or even a game coupon to collect a prize, your register lines keep moving.

Cashiers no longer need to waste time typing in alphanumeric codes, and the errors associated with manual keying of that information are eliminated. In addition, since every scanner in this family offers omni-directional scanning, there is never a need to align barcode and scanner, allowing cashiers as well as customers to quickly and easily scan the mobile barcodes.

Drive marketing costs down and redemption rates up

Electronic barcodes eliminate the hard costs associated with printing and distributing physical coupons, loyalty and gift cards, and game pieces, substantially reducing the overall cost of your marketing programs. In addition, redemption rates for mobile barcode-based marketing programs are extraordinarily high.

Increase brand awareness and improve brand perception

Through the direct cost-effective connection that only mobile barcodes can provide, you can touch your customers more often. Your brand stays ‘front and center’ as you offer your customers real value—savings and convenience. In addition, since your promotional communications are electronic, customers can easily forward a promotion to others who might be interested, allowing you to take advantage of the viral nature of electronic campaigns.

Very low cost

Mobile barcode initiatives cost just a fraction of traditional coupon, loyalty card and gift card programs, there is no need to print, mail or issue physical plastic or paper-based cards and coupons.

Rapid deployment

These electronic programs can be executed in record time, allowing you to respond rapidly to competitor campaigns and incent sales of seasonal items with a shorter shelf life.


Mobile barcode programs do not generate any paper or plastic refuse, promoting your company’s environmentally friendly image.

At the heart of every mobile barcode program is the ability to read the barcodes that are displayed on the screen of your customers’ mobile phones. This means you need scanners that can capture barcodes on the challenging highly reflective display of a mobile phone or tablet. And with Zebra’s imager family, you can.

This family provides the versatility needed to implement mobile barcode-based marketing programs, as well as accommodate patrons who adopt mobile barcode technology before you do. No matter how many mobile barcodes you need to read per hour or per day, there is a scanner that is right for the job—and your environment. Regardless of which scanner you choose, you can count on the performance, reliability and ease-of-use that are synonymous with the Zebra Technologies name.

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