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What is Barcode Technology, and How Does It Impact Retailers?

What is Barcode Technology, and How Does It Impact Retailers?


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For half a century, barcodes have provided a uniform approach to inventory management. Using parallel bars of varying widths against a plain background, barcodes assign a unique numerical value to each inventoried item. Computers can easily read barcodes, and the numerical values at the base of each design make them recognizable to humans. In addition, ease of use and instant processing have helped barcode technology scale. 

With growing adoption and usage in the grocery, retail, and hospitality sectors, barcodes have become more advanced. As competition drove down pricing, handheld barcode scanners became more accessible and affordable to small and midsize businesses. In addition, scanners’ small footprints, portability, and extended storage capacity expanded their utility beyond warehouse picking and in-store checkouts to a diversity of use cases. 

Barcode scanners have progressed beyond POS checkouts; these versatile devices can display customer ratings, provide virtual demos and confirm product pricing, availability, and delivery methods. As an inventory management tool, barcode scanners can identify slow-moving and bestselling items or track an item in transit by scanning its barcode at different waystations.

Barcodes Go Beyond Checkout

Freed from the confines of checkout counters and computer workstations, mPOS-enabled barcode scanners connected to cloud-based POS systems provide your employees with the information they need when they need it. Armed with these powerful tools, your warehouse workers and sales associates can respond to product inquiries, locate in-stock items and review detailed specifications simply by scanning a barcode and reviewing information on your mPOS solution. 

Continued technology advancements are powering barcode deployments across the supply chain. Their universal language enables barcodes to identify inventory, commodities, and prices. Today’s barcodes are used for asset tracking, automated inventory management, and dynamic selling opportunities. Next-generation barcodes can provide real-time product information and customer insights at a glance from anywhere in a warehouse or on a busy shop floor. 

Overall, barcode scanners improve accuracy by replacing manual entry with agile technology, reducing human error and speeding operations. These tools outperform pen and paper and data entry, enabling your staff to scan and stock items with lightning speed. In addition to synchronizing inventory levels with POS orders and checkouts, barcode technology continuously evolves to keep scanners futureproof and in-service across your enterprise.

Creating Connected Environments With Cloud Technology

Commercial-grade barcode technology can improve the customer experience in numerous ways. Omnichannel retailers use barcodes to quickly locate in-stock items and “buy online, pick up in-store” (BOPIS) orders. Customers can present a barcode on their smartphone at a counter or kiosk for fast order fulfillment. In addition to increasing efficiency and order accuracy, these tools drive employee satisfaction, customer retention, and positive reviews. 

When connected to cloud technology and integrated POS systems, barcode scanners are integral to inventory management. Their ability to scan and track items mitigates potential losses by reducing errors and improving cash flow, margins, and response times. 

Smart barcode scanners are a proven way to deter theft, as retailers who suspect employee theft can use them to monitor inventory levels in real-time. This additional inventory management perk alerts management of data discrepancies as inventory items are scanned.

The Emergence of QR Codes

Barcode technology innovations in the 1980s led to QR codes, a derivation of 2D barcodes with enhanced storage capacity that can represent data horizontally and vertically. Patented by Denso Wave, QR codes were initially designed to automate inventory management but found their way into mainstream usage, giving customers and businesses new ways to connect and transact. Here are some examples:

  • Loyalty solutions: Scan a QR code directly from a customer’s phone to connect a purchase to their loyalty account. Starbucks, an early QR code adopter, championed this approach by enabling customers to display unique codes to receive discounts and free drinks. 
  • Payment solutions: Scan a QR code from a customer’s phone to facilitate payment from a digital wallet or mobile app. Stores like Walmart use QR codes to cut down on checkout line bottlenecking. In addition, consumers can scan QR codes for cashless payments that speed up checkout queues.
  • Confirmation tracking: QR codes provided to shoppers can be scanned at the store for online order pickups and proof of purchase/delivery. Concert halls, sporting events, and festival venues have used QR codes to speed check-ins by scanning customer tickets directly from their phones.  
  • Omnichannel ordering: QR codes provided to shoppers can facilitate out-of-stock item orders by directing customers to eCommerce websites. In addition, QR codes on posters and merchandise displays can bridge in-store and digital commerce with offers and discounts.  
  • In-store navigation: QR codes can also be placed around the store to provide a platform for customer reviews and engagement.

These are examples of how barcode technology can help you grow and scale. Advanced scanners seamlessly communicate with smartphones, using barcodes and QR codes as a common language. Basic 1D laser scanners were sufficient for scanning paper coupons, but you will need 2D commercial-grade imagers to scan QR codes from phones.

2D barcode scanner line by Star Micronics.
Star Micronics has an entire line of 2D precision scanners - desktop, handheld, & wireless handheld
Understanding the Hardware

With so many QR and barcode technology benefits, you’ll want futureproof scanners that seamlessly adapt to your needs. As you reflect on your business, consider what you want from a scanner, including how it will serve your employees and customers. 

Today’s high-performing scanners accurately process high-density, high-volume, and distorted barcodes printed on paper or displayed on screens. Ruggedized models, built for high-traffic environments, have IP42-rated design and 1.2m drop resistance. As you assess available models, here are a few questions to help you find the suitable scanner for your business:

  • What will my scanner empower me to do?
  • Will this scanner help with inventory management, and is it safe to take mobile?
  • Does it connect with my POS to create a connected workspace?
  • Does this scanner fit into my budget?
Proven Technology

Are you looking for barcode scanners to create a connected store and cover all your scanning needs? Check out Star Micronics 1D/2D Scanners, or talk to a member of our friendly Sales Team to find out where you can purchase Star’s scanners today!

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