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Scouting tools. Pros & cons of different scouting setups.

scouting tools

As an Amazon seller, you need to have a reliable set of scouting tools that helps you find profitable products quickly and efficiently.

“But what scouting tool should I choose?” This is the most burning question when it comes to product scouting and retail arbitrage.

That’s why in this post, I broke down pros & cons of the most popular scanning tools. It’ll help you choose which setup suits you the most.


1. Smartphone with a scanning app.

– Cons of a smartphone with a scanning app scouting setup:

  • Dependent on the Internet.

Product info is retrieved from the Internet, so with a bad signal or no cell signal, *which is a very common situation*, you can’t scout.

  • Unhandy scanning process.

Using your phone camera as a barcode scanner is tricky; your camera has to be carefully centered and focused on a barcode in order to read it correctly. All this fiddling takes time, which is crucial if you are at a sale. As we all know, time is money in this environment.

  • Slow data retrieving.

If the database is not uploaded on your phone, then product data is pulled from Amazon online. It takes a second or two to show the info on the phone screen. It is pretty slow compared to a PDA’s speed, which takes a fraction of a second.

  • Short battery life.

A smartphone battery may only last through a couple of hours of intense scanning, which is not enough when you’re out on a scouting trip. You’ll have to consider getting a portable charger, *which is an additional expenditure*.

+ Pros of a smartphone with a scanning app scouting setup: 

  • Affordable.

Chances are good that you already have a smartphone, so you just need a scanning app and you’re ready to go. Now, there are quite a few scanning options out there. To simplify the process of choosing for you, here are my recommendations for scouting apps:

ScanPower is an all-in-one service for Amazon sellers. Apart from the scanning, it has listing and repricing features. Plus it has a web-based version for online arbitrage.
Scoutify, by Inventory Lab, – comes in a package with Inventory Lab listing software, and you can share one license with other members of your team.
FBAScan, by ASellerTool, – has a downloadable database feature that allows you to scan even with no Internet. And you can set a buy/reject feature to notify you when a book meets your buying criteria.
You can also use the free Amazon Seller App (iPhone, Android). It’s a good starting point to get acquainted with the business. But keep in mind that this app is way slower and it gives you very limited product data, so you have to click around to get all the necessary information, which is an additional loss of precious time.

  • Real-time product info.

Having the most accurate data is surely an advantage, BUT since pricing/ranking data changes hourly, this real-time info could be different when you get home and start listing your findings on Amazon. That’s why I don’t get obsessed with the most up-to-the-minute data.

Summary: Smartphone with a scouting app scanning setup is the most simple scouting setup, and it requires the least amount of initial investment. It’s perfect for beginners who are not 100% sure about diving headfirst into the business yet.

2. Smartphone & Bluetooth barcode scanner

– Cons of a smartphone & Bluetooth barcode scanner scouting setup:

  • Expensive.

Good Bluetooth wireless barcode scanners (like Opticon, Socket Mobile or ScanFob) could cost $100-$300+, and you’ll need complementary software to pair it with your phone. ASellerTool offers Bluetooth scanner packages. NeatoScan and ScanFob have scanner packages too, but I prefer ASellerTool because of their scanning app.

  • Dependent on the Internet.

Unless you download the database on your phone, you need a cell connection or wifi to scout.

  • Short phone battery life.

Unless you get a portable phone charger.

+ Pros of a smartphone & Bluetooth barcode scanner scouting setup:

  • Fast and handy scanning process.

It’s just a “beep,” and the data is on your phone screen. And with a database stored on your memory card, you get product data at a fraction of a second.

  • Convenient.

Since you already have a smartphone, you don’t have to worry about getting new hardware other than the Bluetooth scanner itself.

  • Buy/reject trigger.

You can set a certain price and/or sales rank criteria, and when a product meets your criteria, you’ll be notified (not every scanning app has this feature).

Summary: A smartphone & Bluetooth scanner scouting setup is a more advanced variant. A Bluetooth scanner requires a bigger initial investment, BUT it makes scouting extremely quick and efficient. With a Bluetooth scanner and downloaded database on your phone, you’ll be as fast as scouting pros with their fancy PDAs & scanners.

 3. PDA & Socket barcode scanner

 – Cons of a PDA & Socket barcode scanner scouting setup:

  • Expensive.

New PDA & a socket barcode scanners cost at minimum $300, plus a monthly fee for the software. *You can get a used PDA for way cheaper on Ebay.* 

  • Old technology.

The PDA industry is dying; the first PDA technology hasn’t changed, so it can crash from time to time or even break down.

  • Manual data update.

You have to update and upload the database manually at least a day before you’ll be using it to have the most current Amazon data.

  • Not “real-time” data.

Depending on when you update, it could be hours or even days old. In this case, if you’re getting a more expensive product you’ll have to double check it online with a scanning app.

 + Pros of a PDA & Socket barcode scanner scouting setup:

  • Super fast.

You see product data on the screen instantaneously.

  • Works offline.

You don’t need an internet connection.

  • Long battery life.

It can last for a whole day or two of intense scanning without needing to be charged.

  • Buy/reject trigger.

Depending on which software you’re using, you can activate this feature.

 Summary: The PDA & scanner option is an old-school but super fast and reliable scouting setup that will work well even with no cell connection. But it’s the most expensive option, so you have to be pretty committed to spend that kind of money.

Conclusion: There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to scouting tools. Weigh the pros & cons of each variant, choose what criteria is the most important for you (speed, accuracy, or price), then choose your perfect scouting weapon. 😉
My scouting setup is the Opticon Bluetooth scanner velcroed to the back of my phone, the FBAScan app with the database downloaded beforehand, and a portable phone charger. This setup has all the benefits of PDAs & scanners, BUT it’s not so expensive.
P.S. I’d like to hear what kind of scouting setup you use. Comment below and let us all know.
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