PlanetRx Unveils E-Commerce Bar Code Scanner

In an effort to streamline the Internet shopping experience for its customers, online drugstore PlanetRx.com (Nasdaq: PLRX) has unveiled a bar code scanner that will allow consumers to select and order items simply and efficiently.

The South San Francisco-based company said shoppers will be able to scan bar codes of products they have in their medicine chests and download the information to their computers. Using the shopping cart feature on the PlanetRx site, consumers can then automatically fill their carts with the scanned products, the company said, and place their orders with a click.

The company developed its ScanCart system with technologies from JavaSoft and RSA Security, it said, and linked it to a portable scanner offered by Symbol Technologies, a maker of wireless and Internet-based mobile data transaction systems. The $159 (US$) unit operates on two AAA batteries.

“By offering ScanCart shopping, we have married the physical shopping experience with the virtual shopping experience and saved our customers time when shopping online,” said PlanetRx CEO William Razzouk.

Time-Saving Device

PlanetRx and Symbol Technologies say the scanner saves consumers the time of having to navigate through product lists and categories.

“The time-saving is significant and it’s been demonstrated already,” Symbol Technologies Senior Vice President Ron Goldman told the E-Commerce Times. “Based on conversations we have had with many Internet companies, I can predict we’ll be seeing a lot more of this in the near future.”

The Holtsville, New York-based Symbol Technologies is a $1.1 billion a year maker of wireless and Internet solutions. The company recently signed a multi-year agreement with Intel to create advanced wireless networking solutions.

Intel plans to invest $100 million in Symbol Technologies over the length of the agreement.

Salvation Through Innovation?

PlanetRx is hoping that the innovation will translate into more shoppers and increased revenues at its site. The company booked revenues of only $5.1 million for the fourth quarter and $9.9 million for the year, while it lost a staggering $51.2 million for the quarter and $98 million for the year.

Faced with intense competition from online drugstores Drugstore.com and CVS.com, as well as health information and commerce sites like Drkoop.com and Healtheon/WebMD, PlanetRx needs to rebound in a hurry and start recouping its development costs.

Innovation or Gimmick?

While acknowledging the long-term potential of the new technology, one observer raises questions about how successful it will be in the near term.

Sylvia Gimenez, an industry analyst with eMarketer, told the E-Commerce Times that, “It looks convenient, but I’m not sure how widely adopted it will be, especially since it only works with one Web site.”

Gimenez continued, “Basically, it looks like it is ahead of its time. Eventually, I can see everyone having this kind of capability as an add-on to wireless handheld devices.”

Malls on Same Pathway

In January, the E-Commerce Times reported on another innovative plan by Simon Property Group, one of the largest shopping mall operators in the U.S., to develop advanced Internet-based products for retailers through clixnmortar.com.

That plan calls for shoppers to be issued a Palm III personal organizer equipped to scan codes on products they see while browsing at a mall.

The scanned products are then listed on the shopper’s personal Web site — created as part of the service — and the shopper can opt to pick up the items at the mall or have them delivered. Selections can also be held at the Web site until the customer decides whether to buy them at a later date.

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