Why doesn't my loyalty card app work in all stores?

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A disappointed woman standing at a supermarket till displaying a loyalty card on her phone and the cashier is trying to scan it

Imagine this, you get your shopping items and happily head to the till; you get your phone and display the supermarket’s loyalty card on Stampuno app, with a big grin on your face. The cashier tries to scan it many times to no avail, so he enters the numbers manually.

But the same card worked at the other branch. Perhaps, you reason that the app just doesn’t work in certain places, such a faulty app!

If I had a penny for every time we get a related support ticket. If this issue can be sorted at our end, then we would have fixed it rather than blogging about it…

The problem: laser barcode scanners

Laser barcode scanners existed for a long time, early 1970s, and the technology today is peanuts cheap. You can get a new laser barcode scanner for less than £10.

However, these scanners were invented a long time ago and they are not suitable to scan glass surfaces, i.e. the phone. This is because the actual beam that scans the barcode is stopped by the glass of the screen as it is a reflective surface.

Other types of barcode scanners like the CMOS and CCD can scan from the phone or from any surface, no problem. But they come at a higher price tag starting from £20.

How do I know if the store uses a laser scanner?

Here are some quick tips to detect laser scanners yourself:

  • They usually emit a strong red beam with a line. There are others that emit a red beam without a line, those are not laser scanners, we are talking about the red with line only.
  • If the plastic loyalty card scans but the equivalent one on your phone didn’t, then this is probably a laser scanner.
  • If the store’s barcode is a 2D barcode, like QR Code, then they are definitely equipped with non-laser scanners as laser scanners can’t read 2D barcode.
  • If you are buying online, if they don’t specify the type, such as CMOS, CCD or Laser and nothing on the description says “scans phone screen” then probably it is the cheap laser scanner type.

The cashier will directly recognise that you are trying to scan a phone. And from previous incidents, they will notify you it is not possible; hence, they are using a laser one.

But E Ink phone screens can be scanned

Have you ever noticed that Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite looks different and doesn’t have a shiny screen? They use “E Ink” screens instead. There are some emerging phones trying to use E Ink technology and if you are a lucky user of one, then fear not, your phone is scannable.

E Ink screens don’t have a reflecting glass and the laser scanners would have no issue getting the digits out.

But who uses laser barcode scanners and why?

The fact that a laser scanner is cheap speaks volumes. For big supermarket chains this is a critical factor and a few years ago nobody cared to scan their phone screen, so laser scanners were good enough. Needless to say, today it is different. Phones have credit card wallets, loyalty cards wallet, membership cards, plane tickets, cinema tickets, gig tickets, you name it. Now all these systems are getting upgraded and mostly use mobile-friendly scanners.

The transition wasn’t that fast, as big chains tend to do things cautiously and cost is, always, an issue.

Is there a solution?

Depending on where you live, the laser scanners are being phased out. Where we are in London, I am not aware of any big store that is still using them (or maybe I am subconsciously avoiding these stores?).

We have never heard any issue about Tesco (UK), recently, but we did learn that Boots (UK) had some unconverted branches.

Conclusion

The laser scanner technology is out of date. But remember that it’s no fault of Stampuno, and that it remains the best way to digitise your loyalty cards and collect rewards and points. Laser scanners are diminishing, but if you encounter one, it is worth asking the cashiers if they can key in your code manually, so you don’t miss out on discounts or reward points.

Did you know this? Have you encountered this issue before? Do share your experience with us in the comment section below.

Author's Picture

Technology enthusiast, software architect, IT manager, coding addict, Street Fighters (but doesn’t have time to play), Fortnite (watching others), chess (forgot the openings!), cat person, Londoner & loyalty cards user, hence, Stampuno founder.

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