The barcode turns 40. What comes next?
Happy birthday to you.
Happy birthday to you.
Happy birthday dear barcode, happy birthday to you.
Forty years ago yesterday, a cashier at a Marsh Supermarket in Ohio scanned a pack of gum and the Uniform Product Code (UPC) took its first step to becoming the standard for tracking merchandise at retail.
"Today, that bar code on the back [of a product] is one of the most trusted marks in the world," Art Smith, CEO of GS1 Canada, told The Globe and Mail.
Those of us of a certain age can still remember the days before barcodes. Back then, working at the checkout meant every item needed to have its price keyed in manually. The process was slow and mistakes, particularly after several hours on shift, were common.
The advent of barcodes made being a cashier so much easier, except in those instances when an item’s code was not entered into a store’s system or the system went down altogether.
As a Wired article points out, the barcode had a revolutionary effect that went well beyond grocery stores. A barcode means that a product is not just a product but points of data "where everything can be cross-referenced with everything else, and everything has a number."
While the barcode has proven its reliability over the years, there are plenty looking to put it out of business. Over the past decade, many have suggested radio frequency identification (RFID) technology was the logical successor to the humble UPC. RFID, evangelists have said, will improve the efficiency of the supply chain from the source of raw materials to the shelf. It can be used to manage price changes, improve compliance levels, track display performance, reduce shrink and offer other benefits.
An article on RFID 24-7 published earlier this year, in fact, made the case that 2014 would finally bring the long predicted RFID revolution.
"We’ve been talking about omni-channel for a while, but I think we’ll see some true omni-channel deployments this year," Bill Hardgrave, dean and Wells Fargo professor, College of Business, Auburn University, told RFID 24-7 in January. "I think we’ll see a couple of retailers that will really catch everyone’s imagination as far as what you can do when you really do know what products you have and where you have them. Then you are able to provide that customer with a true omni-channel experience. We’ll see some examples of that this year and that will set the tone for everyone else."
- The bar code: Revolutionary retail staple turns 40 – The Globe and Mail
- 40 Years on, the Barcode Has Turned Everything Into Information – Wired
- Happy 40th birthday to the barcode – Moneywatch/CBS News
- Will RFID Alter the Retail Landscape in 2014? – RetailWire
What is your take on the contribution of the barcode to the retail industry? Has any other technology had as great an effect on retail over the past 40 years? Is a successor technology ready to replace the UPC?