Retail barcodes for tracking my shopping at home.
June 28, 2009 2:31 PM   Subscribe

How do I get access to UK retail barcodes? I would like to build an application for scanning my shopping at home.

I would like to keep track of my shopping for starters; but ideally (and utopically?), I would use database mashups to tell me how much energy was spent producing my food, which countries (dictatures) it comes from, how healthy it is, how ethical, could I have gotten cheaper deals etc. etc.
I am based in the UK. Bonus points for comments on how hard this would be to make (and as a mobile app?), and pointing me to similar projects. Thank you, hivemind!
posted by yoHighness to Technology (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: First off, you'd need to know which encoding UK retail uses. I know UPC is the most common world-wide, but I am not completely sure it is what's being used in the UK too. To test you could get some random product you have, and fill out the code at the Internet UPC Database and see if you get a match. Upon some more searching, it looks like GS1 is responsible for UK bar code allocation, and they have a search page for bar codes.

The cheaper deals thing would need the additional information of where (or at least at what price) you bought the product, so just some scanning of the product wouldn't be enough, you'd need to fill out what you paid product by product. Unless you make something to scan your receipts, in which case you'd need something to match the receipt scan against your bar code scans. And from there on you would need access to some complete retail prices database for all/many UK shops and a huge amount of products, and even then if you manage to get that you could probably only compare the exact same products (so no generic brand A vs. generic brand B comparisons). Still, there seem to be some price comparison sites, but they might not be delighted if you start scraping their databases for your own app.

And getting a whole origin/health/ethics lookup would be even more difficult. If the country of manufacture isn't listed on the product itself, that information is generally not easily accessible in some other form, and the ethics (which I presume would include the conditions of the workers at the manufacturing plant/etc) would be even harder to come by, except if you have some highly specific products like coffee for instance where there is some more widespread concern about the treatment and payment of the working people.

But you could always start out with "just" the bar code scanning and see where you can take it from there. Good luck!
posted by bjrn at 3:01 PM on June 28, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you for this detailed answer! GS1 knows who sells the orange juice I have on my desk, which is a good start. Many thanks bjrn.
posted by yoHighness at 6:14 PM on June 28, 2009

I don't think this will work hoiw you want. To get the cheaper deals information, you need price information, and that varies per supermarket chain or shop, then by when you bought it, and then even by branch. After that you need to think about special offers. A big task to do properly!
posted by devnull at 11:35 PM on June 28, 2009

Response by poster: I looked around similar projects and found "Barcode Wikipedia" and got in touch with the guy behind - I hope he won't mind me posting some of his very enlightening email here:

There's one huge problem with the concept of barcode wikipedia - there's too many barcodes. Every product article, with unique flavour, colour or package size/material needs to have one - Coca Cola may have globally thousands of different barcodes for essentially the same product. I don't think it's feasible to maintain a open database for that.
Instead I have been playing around with an idea of having a global database mapping out our "product reality", grouping products and brands. The idea is that a barcode can be a reference to the actual product article (for example a 0.33 liter light Cola can), which can also be a reference to the Cola brand. Or the barcode can be a direct reference to the brand. I think it's doable, but really hard to get people understand the concept.
This spring Consumer Gadget was the motivator for an interesting project, which collects barcodes from online stores. It's a Firefox plugin that fetches ethical information and embeds it to Amazon pages, related to the product. It's not public, just a demonstration service, but it works pretty well. It actually transforms Amazon Product ID into EAN, and utilized Gepir! (check out the ASIN to EAN converter

posted by yoHighness at 4:03 AM on July 3, 2009

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