Barcle is a recent entrant, launched in November 2007, in the crowded field of mobile web price comparison and shopping. They have 900 merchant partners including Best Buy, TigerDirect and B. Dalton. This week Walmart, the biggest US retailer, partnered with Barcle.
The “Bar” in the name refers to barcodes. You can search by entering the 8, 12 or 13 digit number that appears under the UPC barcode on most consumer products. This is a great idea for mobile as it’s much easier to key numbers than words with a mobile keypad particularly if the mobile website switches the phone’s input mode to numeric in the barcode field.
Barcle fails to exploit that opportunity by using the same input field for both barcodes and product name searches. The site’s barcode database also seems to be incomplete. I had limited success using barcodes with Barcle. I tried the codes from eight current products that are available online; a couple of mobile phones, two books, two music CDs, some brand name vitamins and a digital camera. Of the eight products, Barcle found only three (one phone, a CD and a book). It found two more (the vitamins and the camera) if I typed in the product name.
Each listing has a prominent “Buy Now” button but it isn’t really possible to make a purchase directly from Barcle’s mobile site. The Buy Now button links to the Barcle partner’s site, very few of which have mobile formated pages. Barcle does offer an alternative, if you enter an email address and the merchant is supposed to contact you to complete the sale.
I’m not really sure where Barcle fits in the mobile shopping ecosystem. As a price comparison tool, it’s limited because it only offers prices from its partners. True, there are over 900 Barcle partners, but that’s still a tiny fraction of the total number of online merchants. Notably absent are Amazon and the thousands of Yahoo and PriceGrabber storefronts. On most items, Barcle’s partners seem to offer competitive prices but on searches I tried for mobile phone accessories like chargers, cases and headsets the prices Barcle quoted were quite high. And Barcle can’t really be considered a mobile shopping site, because purchases can’t be completed immediately using only the phone.
I think mobile shopping has a real future but no one has put all the pieces together to make it work. The carriers have an integrated billing solution but limit its use to buying things like ringtones. I’d like to have the ability to buy a book from an Amazon affiliate link on a mobile site and have it billed to my phone bill and shipped to my home addresses all with a single click.
The mobile carriers’ lack of interest in being universal mobile payment systems has created an opportunity to do something off portal using PayPal or Google Checkout. In fact I’m surprised that neither Google or PayPal themselves have built an off portal mobile shopping portal. Those two services have all the pieces to build a compelling, easy to use mobile shopping experience. Both Google and PayPal hold our billing and shipping information and have a mobile payment solution that requires the user to enter only two easy to remember numbers, a mobile phone number and PIN code. I don’t understand why companies like Barcle don’t offer the ability to complete purchases using PayPay or Google Checkout.