The first modern barcode used in a shop with a UPC scanner was for a 10 pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum. The event took place with a bit of ceremony in a shop in Troy, Ohio. It was held there because the company that first commercialised barcode was NCR (National Cash Register) and Troy was then where their headquarters was found. It took place on 26 June, 1974 and was the culmination of decades of development.
The concept was first envisioned by Norman Woodland who took on the problem after hearing that the grocery industry needed to find ways to move shoppers through the markets more quickly. He first drew his patterns in the sand while thinking through the idea in Miami. This was in 1948, and it was in 1949 that the first patent was filed. Over the next twenty-five years, the idea was refined and the technology developed to create barcodes, define the data in them, and to scan, record, and utilise that data.
We are all now very familiar with barcodes and see them everywhere. Nearly all the products we buy in supermarkets have them. They appear on most packages that are delivered to homes. They are used to store and track all kinds of products and materials.
There are myriad reasons the use of barcodes has become so widespread. They are invaluable for time savings, efficiencies, and cost savings in many areas.
One of the best reasons for their use is the elimination of costly errors. Manually entering data (such as the price into a cash register) is far more likely to result in some errors than scanning a barcode. The scanning process is also faster, allowing the data to get into the systems quickly and reliably.
Stock control is also vastly improved with the use of scanning equipment. Not only does the scan let the system know that an item has been sold in real time, but the financial record is also stored immediately. One of the great benefits of this is that inventory levels can be reduced, as no “buffer” stocks need to be kept in case of erroneous stock reports. As the barcode can also record the locations of items in inventory, the are efficiencies to be gained in terms of less time spent searching for items.
It used to be that training employees on the systems used for selling or tracking inventory was fairly extensive. Not only did the employee have to get through the training, but another employee had to spend time doing the training. It only takes a few minutes to train someone to use a barcode scanner. Many people using the self-checkout at their supermarket are self-trained!
The types of data that can be gathered from these systems is amazing. The one we’re all familiar with is pricing. But they can also be used for locations, inventory controls, notifications, and many other things. As they get printed onto flat surfaces, they can be attached to most anything.
Once the scan is made, the data is sent to the computer system straight away. This provides real-time data with accurate information. This allows for faster decision making with good information, saving time and effort.
The cost of printing barcodes is very low. Once you know what data you want gathered from a scan, entering that into the programming, and having barcode printers on hand allows businesses to create and implement the technology quickly and easily. They can be printed onto a range of surfaces and materials, providing even more flexibility.
Familiar, user-friendly, and inexpensive to implement, the technology has revolutionised the retail, warehousing, and shipping industries. The gains in efficiency, the overhead savings, and the accuracy and quickness of data available have changed the way things are done, with tremendous financial benefits.