Functional Barcode System Tips
Barcodes are iconic and can easily be spotted on nearly any type of item or product, from clothing tags to packaged foods, books, healthcare, mail and much more. Their applications span across industries and are commonly found on mass manufactured products. Over the years, the types of barcodes available have evolved, and it has become easier than ever to setup in-house barcode systems. They facilitate fast and error-free transactions and have become an integral part of point of sale (POS) setups.
With an adequate barcode system, you can easily print and scan any barcode for better management of inventory and tracking of sales. Initially, barcodes were primarily used by large supermarkets selling a diverse array of products. The process was complex and could be expensive. As costs have dropped, businesses of all sizes have started adopting barcode systems due to the wide range of benefits they offer.
Fast and efficient, a barcode system can significantly boost operational efficiency while reducing pressure on limited resources. Whether you already have a POS system in place, or are yet to buy one, including a barcode setup is a worthwhile investment. Here is a complete guide to barcode systems, and the top tips on how to maximise its benefits.
What Are Barcodes?
A barcode is a scannable code made up of patterns of numbers and lines with varying widths. All the lines are in parallel, and there are 100 billion barcode variations possible. Each barcode is unique, and when scanned with a compatible barcode scanner, it can reveal a large amount of data. At checkouts, a barcode scanner can instantly decode barcodes on products and add them to the billing list.
The foundation of barcode functioning is based on symbology, where barcodes act as a pointer for the specific product. The symbology is reflected in the stored database, and the relevant details are displayed. The applications of barcodes increased with the development of barcode scanners that could decode slightly damaged barcodes. There is complete flexibility in the details you want to store, and can include the item price, model, category, type, location, and origin.
Barcodes were first developed in the late 1940s to identify products automatically and quickly for supermarkets and speed up checkouts. Early forms of barcodes were inspired by the popular Morse Code, and incorporated linear as well as circular patterns. Other variations of the traditional barcode were invented, including matrix codes that featured dot shaped modules. By the late 2000s, barcodes were widely used across the world.
The type of barcodes you use influence the amount of data that can be encoded and the compatible barcode scanners. Currently, there are two main types of barcodes that are in use: 1-dimensional or 1D linear barcodes, and 2-dimensional or 2D matrix barcodes.
- Linear 1D Barcodes: Linear 1-dimensional barcodes are the most commonly used type of barcode and consist of a pattern of vertical lines with different widths and gaps, along with 12 numbers. Typically, the first 6 digits identify the manufacturer, and the next 5 refer to the product and a final number for code verification. Anywhere between 8 and 25 characters of information can be stored on a standard 1D barcode. Each character or combination of characters refers to specific characteristics or properties of the product. Stacking the barcode by adding extra bars and spaces can increase the information storing capacity to an extent. Barcodes storing 8-15 characters are small and are easier to print and apply on products, leading to their popularity. A 1D barcode is scanned horizontally by a compatible barcode scanner, often using laser technology
- Matrix 2D Barcodes: The development of matrix 2D barcodes took place after 1D barcodes, and 2D barcodes can store a lot more information than their predecessors. A 2D barcode is square or rectangularly shaped and stores information horizontally and vertically. Apart from simple lines of varying widths, 2D barcodes use small shapes such as squares, dots, and hexagons to form the patterns. A common example of a 2D barcode is QR code. A 2D barcode can store anywhere between 4,000 and 7,000 characters while still maintaining a small and convenient scanning size. Even if there are slight damages to the 2D barcode, it has a 100% readability rate. Matrix 2D barcodes can be scanned from any direction and can function independently without a connected database. Some 2D barcodes can be scanned directly from smartphone cameras.
Advantages of Barcodes
Barcodes provide up-to-date information on products with a simple scan with minimal errors. Here are some of the top advantages of barcodes:
- Reduce Human Error
Transferring data requires precision, especially in sensitive situations such as tracking packages, inventory or ticketing. Manually entering data is time consuming, labour-intensive and risks human error, even with the most conscientious of workers. Any minor mistake can have major repercussions. With barcodes, data transfer becomes automatic rather than manual, removing risk of human error and typographical mistakes. The barcode scanner accurately decodes the symbol, connecting it with the previously stored data, removing scope for errors.
- Fast Information Transfer
Apart from improving the accuracy of information transfer, barcodes exponentially increase speed. In situations where large amounts of data need to be recorded, barcodes are excellent at promoting speed. Based on the type of barcodes you are using; barcode scanners can decode compatible symbologies in seconds. At checkouts, by including a barcode scanner in your POS setup, you can drastically decrease the time taken for individual transactions. Faster checkouts lead to happier customers and more sales.
- Inventory Management
Every business involved in sale of goods needs to have some type of tracking system to check the flow of goods and inventory. All new supplies as well as every sale needs to be tallied to keep precise count of how much stock is available and what needs to be ordered. Barcodes are excellent for inventory management, tracking, and are also effective if there are multiple storage locations. Simply scan incoming items, and scan at the checkout for efficient inventory management.
The importance of sales analytics is continually on the rise, and helps you make smarter business decisions for greater success. With barcodes, you can identify the products that are sold the most, sales frequency, and items that are slow moving. Accordingly, you can forecast sales and adapt future supply orders, by stocking up on the in-demand items and phasing out unpopular items. This reduces wastage and saves money and effort, helping you adapt your business to customer demand and preferences.
Barcodes are fully customisable and can be adapted to suit your business needs. Any data or information can be stored in your database and coded into specific barcode symbols. The barcode database is flexible, and even after you have labelled products with your barcodes, their corresponding data can be edited (this is dependent on your POS/Inventor Management System). As a result, you get greater flexibility and can use barcodes for multiple purposes such as asset tracking, shipping, and inventory management, and manage products across multiple locations.
Applications of Barcodes
The flexibility and customisation capabilities of barcodes offer immense potential for its application across industries, for commercial, industrial, and governmental use. It is entirely up to you on what information you want to encode into a barcode, and with adequate scanners and printers, a barcode setup can have multiple uses. Here are the top applications of barcodes:
- Manufacturing: Barcodes have become a common part of manufacturing, especially when dealing with large volume and bulk products. With barcodes, it is easier to keep track of all the items created, expiry dates, shipping destination, batch numbers and more. If there is any problem with a product sold in the future, with barcodes it can be accurately traced back to its source.
- Grocery and Retail: The most prominent applications of barcodes are in grocery and retail stores where barcodes are featured on produce and products that are to be sold. Sellers can customise barcodes as required for their particular niche. Barcodes speed up checkouts with a POS system that has a barcode scanner. Furthermore, barcodes help with inventory management and sales analytics.
- Ticketing: The popularity of using barcodes on tickets is on the rise, and can be used for tickets for movies, events, plays, travel, and more. Including barcodes on tickets can speed up the entry process and help keep accurate track of visitor details. Barcodes on tickets provide greater insight into customer purchasing preferences, enabling event organisers to improve their offerings.
- Personnel Identification: Barcodes are often used on forms and personnel documents, as well as for patient identification by healthcare service providers. Incorporating barcodes on forms, purchase history, admissions, treatments, and other documents is a great way to organise personnel and patients when there are a large number of people involved. Looking up details is much faster and efficient with barcodes.
- Transportation and Logistics: There are immense applications of barcodes in shipping, transportation, and logistics of goods. Barcodes can be applied at the source point, allowing accurate tracking of shipments throughout the transportation process. This is especially helpful when products undergo multiple movements through different warehouses and means of transportation. With barcodes, you can track the movement of every product and prevent losses and delays.
What is a Barcode System?
A barcode system is a cohesive setup that facilitates implementing barcodes, scanning them, and decoding the data. The barcode needs for businesses tend to vary, depending upon the size of the business, types of items to be barcoded and the type of barcodes that are used. The essential components for a barcode system are a barcode scanner, barcode printer and a tool to generate the barcodes. If you are using a pre-existing barcode framework, you might not need a barcode generator. Also, if you wish to utilise the existing barcodes on products that were applied by the manufacturer, you can manage without a barcode printer. A barcode scanner is a necessity for tracking the movement of products.
Here is an overview of the key components of a barcode setup:
1. Barcode Scanner
A bar code scanner, also known as a barcode reader is an optical scanner that is used to scan and decode a printed barcode, extracting the encoded data. The barcode scanner is connected to a computer or POS terminal through traditional connectors or USB, Bluetooth, or wireless networks. There are 5 types of barcode scanners: pen-type scanners, laser scanners, CCD barcode scanners, 2D camera scanners and omnidirectional barcode scanners.
A pen-type scanner is durable and inexpensive, and designed to decode 1D linear barcodes. Laser scanners are popular and fast, using technology more advanced than pen-type scanners, and can scan 1D barcodes from far distances. CCD (charge coupled device) scanners are expensive and have limited scanning distance but high accuracy for 1D barcodes. A 2D camera barcode scanner is designed to scan and decode 2D barcodes, using camera-based technology. Omnidirectional barcode scanners are powerful and frequently used with POS systems. They can read 1D and 2D barcodes from any angle, even when the barcode has been slightly damaged.
Barcode scanners are easy to use, convenient, and accurate, and are available in handheld or handsfree formats, depending on your preference. When selecting a barcode scanner, you need to consider the type of barcodes to be scanned, their quality, distance from barcode, scanning environment, volume of scanning needed and light requirements. Barcode scanners have a long lifespan and can last for years. They are available in a variety of price points, and a good quality barcode scanner can be found for nearly every budget.
2. Barcode Generator
To explore the full customisation potential of barcodes, you need to be able to generate your own barcodes. Even if the products you are selling have pre-existing barcodes, their capacity of storing data and durability are not confirmed. By generating barcodes, yourself, you can choose the level of complexity and amount of data storage you want to support. For example, maybe you would rather have 1D barcodes, or 2D barcodes or a combination of both. Perhaps for items that customers directly interact with, you want to offer QR codes that they can scan from their smartphones.
The good news is that despite how complex and confusing barcodes may appear without a scanner, they are easy to generate. There are several online barcode generator tools available, and many can be used for free. Microsoft Word even has a Barcode Font that can create custom barcodes. Paid and dedicated barcode software is available if you want to use a single program for barcode generation and database storage. Most good retail pos softwares come with the ability to generate barcodes.
With a barcode generator tool, you can create custom barcodes specifically for your business, without mixing up scans from existing barcodes. Barcodes can be created based on the type of barcode you need, whether you want 1D barcodes, 2D barcodes or QR codes. To create barcodes, you need SKUs or stock keeping units and a basic framework with the categories you want the barcodes to answer to. For example, the category, style, colour, and size of an item. Standardising your barcodes so that other resellers can also use them can be expensive as it requires registration, an initial fee and annual renewal fee.
3. Barcode Printer
Once you have barcodes, you will need some way to print them on self-adhesive paper that can be attached to the desired product. Although it is possible to outsource the printing task to another company with the requisite printers, it can be time-consuming and expensive. A better option that gives you flexibility and cost savings is to print the barcodes in-house. Any printer that has adequate support for high resolution printing can be used to produce barcodes, even general office/home laser and inkjet printers. Receipt printers tend to have a low printing resolution and are thus not suited for printing barcodes. The best printers for barcode printing are label printers.
A label printer is designed to print on self-adhesive label rolls, with an adequate printing resolution for barcodes. Label printers typically feature thermal printing technology as it is cost-efficient, produces good quality prints and barcodes, and offers consistent performance. There are two types of thermal label printers available, direct thermal label printers and thermal transfer label printers. Apart from printing good quality barcodes, label printers can be used to print a wide range of labels, descriptions, warnings, coupons and more.
A direct thermal label printer has a heated printhead that produces the desired pattern on specialised heat sensitive label rolls. While direct thermal label printers have lower operating costs, the printouts are two-tone and have limited durability. A thermal transfer label printer also has a heated printhead but it reacts with specialised ink ribbons that transfer the desired pattern onto label rolls. The involved costs can be higher, but thermal transfer printers have better printing quality and can also print in multiple colours.
Top Tips for a Barcode System
Barcodes may often seem intimidating and unfamiliar, especially for new business owners. However, they offer such a wide range of benefits that it is better to master barcodes once and for all, so that you can reap their full potential. Here are some of the top tips to have an effective barcode system:
1. Clearly Identify your Requirements
The first and foremost step to having an effective barcode system is to clearly identify and understand your requirements. Whether you already have a business in operation and want to add barcodes, or if you are planning to launch a business in the future, examining your expectations is necessary. What do you expect from the barcodes? What are your primary goals? Do you want to simply promote fast checkouts or is your focus on inventory management? How much data do you want to store in a barcode? What type of barcodes will you use? How durable should the barcodes be? What are the expected hours of operation? Who will be scanning the barcodes?
Barcodes are immensely versatile and can be adapted to suit the needs of a particular business, but for best results you have to clearly identify your needs. For example, a grocery store that sells fresh produce may need a setup to print fresh barcodes for produce categories. A garments retailer may prefer to have barcodes that are easily removable while an electronics seller would need stronger adhesives to prevent theft. Based on the available space at the checkout, a mobile or handsfree barcode scanner may be more suitable and space-efficient.
2. Start Simple
A barcode system can easily be intimidating and overwhelming, resulting in you losing out on its benefits and full capabilities. Start small and simple, and work your way up, growing with the barcodes. Carefully map out the categories of products that you want to create barcodes for. Even if your goal is to add barcodes on your entire stock, begin with one category at a time. Plan out what information you want to be encoded into the barcodes and the categories and criteria the information will fall under. For example, product category, colour, size, supplier, or style.
If you are generating your own barcodes, then make sure to carefully choose a barcoding tool that is easy to use and manageable. Generate barcodes for one product category at a time to avoid confusion and consider printing the barcodes in batches. Consider your current or projected pace of sales and supplies so that you know how frequently you need to apply new barcodes. Organise your storage spaces and warehouses in advance, so that once the barcodes are ready, they can quickly and efficiently be applied to all incoming products. By focusing on one category and step at a time, you can avoid confusion, duplication, and loss of productivity.
3. Invest in Quality Components
The popularity of barcode systems has led to the availability of barcode scanners and printers at various price points. While it may be tempting to start off with a low-cost barcode scanner or printer, investing in quality components is advisable. Good quality label printer and barcode scanners are long-lasting, reliable, and durable. Always purchase POS equipment from trust-worthy sellers to get the most benefit from your investment. Investing in slightly more expensive barcode scanners is well worth the investment as you get better performance and a longer lifespan.
Barcode scanners are essential for a barcode system, and each checkout will need to be equipped with a barcode scanner compatible with the symbologies used. Other barcode scanners can be used to monitor incoming supplies, or mobile scanners can be used for checkouts and warehousing. Problems with a barcode scanner can disrupt transactions, inventory management, and operations, and so it is important to choose reliable and efficient barcode scanners. Ensure that the barcode scanners are compatible with the types of barcodes you are currently using and plan to use in the future.
When selecting a label printer, consider the full applications of it for your business, and accordingly choose a suitable label printer model. If you have extensive labelling needs, then a more expensive and robust labelling printer can be beneficial, otherwise a simple label printer can suffice for basic barcode printing.
4. Ensure Seamless Integration
There are multiple tools available for business operations, ranging from employee management, to supply automation, warehouse management, customer management, ERP and marketing. Business tools and software programmes are deployed daily. By utilising these tools, businesses can have smoother operations while reducing pressure on limited resources, saving money, and avoiding errors. When you select a barcode system for your business, make sure that it seamlessly integrates with existing systems and tools. Challenges in integration can cause significant problems for you, and hamper your ability to benefit from the barcode setup. It can add on extra work if you have to collect barcode data and then manually enter it into other business tools.
If you have already launched your business, and are adding barcode systems later, verifying compatibility is important. Check the integration capabilities of your key daily business tools and software programmes, especially the POS software you use, any inventory management tools, and shipping tools. If you are planning to launch your business, you have more flexibility in finding business tools that are compatible. As the data from barcodes is used for inventory management, sales reports, analytics, ordering stocks and shipping, easy integration is necessary. Due to the prevalence of barcode systems, most business tools that use barcode data have support for integration with barcode systems.
5. Empower Employees
On a day-to-day basis, it is your employees that will be using and implementing the barcode system. From applying barcodes labels to scanning incoming stock, and scanning products customers purchase, employees are the frontline users of barcodes. Empower you employees and encourage effective implementation of barcodes by having a user-friendly setup. Clearly identify and explain the type of barcodes you are using, and where they should be applied on products. Use the limited visible characters on barcodes wisely and explain to your employees the basic identification system, so they can find the product data in case scanning fails.
Apart from checkouts and inventory management, employees can use barcodes to directly help customers and encourage sales. Choose barcode scanners that are easy to operate and can accurately scan even slightly damaged barcodes. Consider mobile and lightweight barcode scanners with handsfree stands for greater flexibility and convenience. With a barcode scanner connected to a POS system or inventory management software, employees can quickly scan a product and identify how many pieces of that product are available, and other details such as available sizes or colours.
Barcodes are a powerful asset for employees, simplifying their work and reducing time spent on repetitive tasks. By keeping your employees up-to-date with the barcode system and having user-friendly barcode scanners, you can encourage better implementation of the barcode system.
6. Review and Revise
No system or business tool is perfect, and when you first implement a barcode system, despite the best preparation there will likely be a few issues. Every business has unique needs and adapting a barcode system that suits you can take time. Carefully review the performance of your barcode setup on a regular basis, and identify any problems or challenges that arise, and any areas that can benefit from improvement. For example, if many barcodes are turning out blurred or are damaged easily, you may want to upgrade your label printer for higher resolution barcodes. If scanning 1D barcodes is taking time, you can try upgrading to 2D barcodes.
Since barcodes are fully customisable, you can easily change the setup to suit evolving business needs. The data decoded by a barcode can be adjusted and adapted. For example, if you have multiple suppliers for a single category of product, you can add a category to indicate supplier. During sales and promotions, new product categories, items targeted for sales can feature a customised barcode to help you track the performance of the promotion. If you have an adequately functioning barcode system, you can consider upgrading it for greater features. Upgrading your barcode scanners, as and when budget allows, is a great way to take advantage of new technologies and speed up transactions.
7. Always Backup
When you have worked hard on developing a customised barcode system tailor made for your business needs, losing data can be a major setback. Always make sure to backup all your barcode system data and details on a regular basis. In case of any losses or operating failures, you will have a backup ready. The backups can help you restart your barcode system with minimal problems as you will already have the framework for future barcodes. Either you can manually take backups if you are using free barcode generation tools, or a dedicated software can offer features for safe and secure data backup.
Even products that have already been sold with a unique barcode should have the barcodes backed up for future reference. The barcode data can help you in multiple ways, showing how your barcode system has evolved. Consistently taking backups can help you spot trends in barcode system performance and plan better for the future. Barcode backups are particularly useful if you expand your business to other locations, or add eCommerce capabilities. Based on your existing barcode setup, you can make slight changes to the barcodes for expansion, or retain the same format with an added category. Supporting a unified barcode setup will help in smooth operations between channels and branches with minimal effort.
A barcode system has become a vital part of businesses across industries and niches, and can boost inventory management, asset tracking, and fast transactions. They reduce manual effort and prevent errors while providing reliable data for improved business decisions. Immensely customisable, you can adapt a barcode system to suit your unique business needs.
To set up an adequate barcode system, you need a way to generate barcodes, print barcodes, and scan them. While online tools can help you generate barcodes, a label printer is a great option that can help you print high resolution barcodes and labels. There is an abundance of barcode scanners available at a variety of price points with different scanning technologies, ranges, compatible symbologies, and connectivity options.
Here at POS Sales Australia, you can find an excellent range of POS components including label printers, barcode scanners, and scanner accessories. We offer every leading type of barcode scanner, including cordless, omnidirectional, handheld, and 2D barcode scanners, and even industrial barcode scanners. Reach out to us today for guidance and help in setting up a custom barcode solution.