Last week, ScoutPal's Dave Anderson gave me the opportunity to test drive ScoutPalSE (ScoutPal Scanner Edition), a Nextel phone fitted with a barcode scanner. My experience with it can be expressed in one word: whoa. It's difficult to imagine how things could get any faster, easier and - this is important in some environments - discreet. You simply point the scanner at the barcode on the back of the book and press and release the scan button. A horizontal laser beam shines across the barcode, captures it, and, once the fetch button is pressed, results appear on the display within moments. As many as 32 barcodes may be scanned before pressing the fetch button, though it's usually more efficient to scan in smaller groups, say, 2 to 4 at a time.
You also have the option of entering ISBN's manually for books without barcodes. Based on a small sampling of thrift stores (7 or 8) I visited one morning, considerably more than half the books I picked up that were sufficiently interesting to merit a scan had barcodes. Typing the ISBN, that is, was by far the exception. Also, once I realized how much faster scanning was than manual entry, I observed myself relaxing my criteria for the books I chose to scan. On one particularly notable occasion in a Goodwill Boutique, I picked up a book I wouldn't have bothered to type the ISBN on, scanned it, and stood for several moments staring at the resulting display, startled that copies on Amazon Marketplace started at $70! Moreover, this book was priced at $9.99 (one of the highest priced books I'd ever seen in a thrift store) and without ScoutPal, I never wouldn't taken a shot on buying it.
In this same Boutique - yes, this was a "high-end" thrift store in an upper crust neighborhood - customers are watched in much the same way they are in, well, jewelry stores in Manhattan, the kind of watching that makes some shoppers feel distinctly uncomfortable. Having the scanner in this situation enabled me to be discreet about what I was doing, and I seriously doubt that any of the clerks had a clue that I was busily checking prices. A big plus.
Ok, that's the good news. If there's bad news, it's what this will cost you. This could be a great investment anyway, but it's going to depend on your particular circumstances. First, the numbers. The scanner itself is $230; a Nextel i88 phone (with a 2-year Nextel contract) $79.99; and there's also an account activation fee of $30 and $10 for shipping. Total one-time charge - $354.99. Nextel accounts start at $49.99 a month for 300 cellular minutes. Using the 2-year Nextel contract as a benchmark, $354.99 computes to $7.40 a month. Also, my current contract with AT&T is at $29.99 a month for a more conventional phone, so the difference of $20 a month for the Nextel calling plan needs to be added in as well. The result for me would be a net increase of $27.40 a month over what I'm paying now.
There's no question that this would pay for itself and then some for me, but if you're a low-volume seller, specialize in vintage books, or don't have access to a fair number of inventory sources with significant quantities of ISBN-era books, you might want to hold off until the numbers work better for you. For more information, see ScoutPal.
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