Today nearly everything in retail contains a barcode of some form, from quick response (QR) barcodes to the more familiar UPC barcodes printed on practically any product in the supermarket or department store. Barcodes are indispensable for managing products through the supply chain to the end consumer. Even smartphones contain scanning apps that allow shoppers to quickly scan barcodes to garner additional information about products and to locate retail establishments where they can be purchased.

How did this technology come into our lives, and who invented it?

History of Barcoding

As strange as it may seem, the small barcodes we see on packages delivered to our homes, or even smaller forms on every item picked up in the grocery started out with large plates containing barcodes that were affixed to each side of rail cars to report their movement as they passed scanners along the tracks.

This early adaptation of barcoding dates back to 1962, although the technology was actually invented by Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver in 1951, with their first barcode reader being built-in 1952. Woodland and Silver’s patent incorporated the use of varying thicknesses of lines to represent characters that readers could scan, similar to the Morse code method using dots and dashes.

With multiple tests and refinements of the technology, commercially feasible barcoding solutions became viable:

  • The National Association of Food Chains put together a committee to develop a uniform system of barcoding products in 1970, and by 1973, what is now known as the Universal Product Code (UPC) was introduced, creating a standard for commercial use of barcodes.
  • 1974 saw the first implementation of barcode scanning at a supermarket chain in Ohio. By 1984, barcode scanning had spread through nearly a third of all grocery supermarkets. Today, even the smallest market or automotive service station employs barcode scanning technology.
  • QR barcodes were developed and adopted by the automotive industry in 1994 and are now utilized across many industries.

Barcoding in the Retail industry

As barcoding technology has matured, so have the innovative ways it has been put to use in the retail environment. Early implementations focused on speeding up the customer checkout process, including improved accuracy in prices with automated price lookup and the elimination of keying information into cash registers.

By quickly scanning barcodes with hand-held scanners, and later just swiping items across a glass that protected a scanner, cashiers served customers rapidly and accurately.

Retailers Today Benefit from Barcode Technology in Many Ways

  • Incoming products received can be scanned quickly, matching the barcoded products instantly to purchase orders
  • Regular inventory processes can be conducted easily by scanning barcodes that provide product information and enable accurate counts
  • Sales are automatically recorded, reducing inventory levels which can trigger reordering to replace sold items
  • As products are stocked on shelves for sale, the product barcode is often scanned along with barcoded shelf labels, ensuring proper placement of each item
  • Barcodes can represent a variety of data, including specific product information, manufacturer, lot numbers, and other useful information
  • Scanning inventory barcodes can provide retail businesses with critical information such as products that have reached expiration dates or are subject to product recalls
  • Barcodes can also be utilized to control employee access to restricted areas with access cards, including employee clock-in and clock-out times

Information provided from the speed and accuracy provided by barcoding offers valuable information to retailers and supply chain managers.

Retailers know what was ordered, what was received, and what items remain in inventory. They also know where sales were recorded, enabling more effective ordering for products where markets are stronger.

Customer Benefits from Retail Barcoding

Today’s consumer benefits from barcoding, as well:

  • Faster checkout and accurate pricing of items
  • Smartphone apps now allow consumers to scan an item, and search for potential retailers who may offer the exact item, often even the competitor’s price, and whether the item is available
  • Cost benefits to the retailer equate to better pricing of goods to the consumer
  • Assurance of available products – barcoding facilitates automated inventory control, resulting in fewer back orders and confidence in online shopping

Summing Up

Retail use of barcoding has proven to be a valuable technology for retailers, their suppliers, and consumers. There are, of course, conditions that must be met to support these benefits:

  • Barcode printers and scanners must be reliable and may need to support a variety of barcodes – UPC, QR, Code 128
  • Labeling printers must print legible, long-lasting images that will scan successfully

When utilizing barcode technology, attention to each of these requirements is critical to success.

Implementing Retail Barcoding

Just as barcoding technology has revolutionized the retail industry, Donnellon McCarthy Enterprises (DME) can help you implement a barcoding strategy that provides many improvements for your retail business:

  • Improved productivity for retail personnel
  • Significant increase in inventory accuracy
  • Better customer experience through enhanced service – more consistent product availability and faster checkout

DME barcoding professionals can analyze your retail operation and propose a barcoding solution that streamlines retail operations and saves the costs of inventory. Your return on investment includes improved customer satisfaction and a boost in employee morale. Call us today for more information.