With the new retail 2D scanning model, retailers use product and customer data captured at the point-of-sale (POS) to replenish their inventory with the right level of stock. To achieve this result with accuracy and without compromising worker productivity, retailers need rugged scanners for the most challenging environments, that are flexible for the new multi-modal warehouse, and open to the most innovative inventory management applications.
Convenience and Department stores provide a wide proliferation of product mix; size characteristics create challenges for both order accuracy and handling control. Together with this seasonal demands and an intense market place competition create pressure on the supply chain. The ability to meet these needs for agility while managing labor costs creates a challenge.
2D barcodes are often involved in a question someone will ask me about point of service hardware and software. The general question: We are updating our POS system and/or scanner. Can your scanner read 2D barcodes? I want to be sure I am prepared for whatever solution operations or marketing may request.
Retailers, marketers and technology companies are still sorting out the best way to interact with mobile devices.
In 2013, the short answer is often: “Yes, the scanner will read 2D barcodes”. Newer scanners have imagers (small cameras) built into them that allow the scanners to reliably scan a traditional 1D code from the reflective surface of a mobile screen. Those same imagers built into the scanners can also read 2D barcodes – whether they are on paper or on a mobile device screen. If your organization is going to buy scanners, we wholeheartedly recommend purchasing a unit with either an imager upgrade option, or better yet, the imager already included in the unit.
So – most retail point of service scanners have the ability to read traditional 1D barcodes and 2D barcodes. In order to scan those codes, the scanners need to be programmed to read the codes chosen by the retailer for reading. That means we can turn on and off the types of codes we want to read.
Now that we have answered the question of CAN a scanner read a 2D barcode at Point of Service, let’s examine whether a scanner SHOULD be used to read 2D barcodes at point of service.
First, consider the characteristics of the code types used for retail at the very basic level:
1D barcode characteristics:
These codes are about simple and speeding transactions.
2D barcode characteristics:
These codes are to pass more detailed information and were not originally designed for use at Point of Service. (Tickets and payment are different – they make some sense with 2D, but let’s set those aside for now).
Second, consider how 2D codes will be used. Generally, I have seen 2 potential usages for 2D barcodes at a traditional point of service where the idea of scanning a 2D barcode has become interesting to a retailer.
1. Loyalty Card – Increasingly retailers note that we don’t want to carry more cards in our wallets. It’s free and simple to carry an app. Why not provide a way for consumers to carry their loyalty card without a card? This is a wonderful idea, but a 2D barcode is not necessary. There are 1D barcodes that can easily pass the data required to the POS to identify the loyalty card holder. No need for 2D here.
2. Coupons – The concerns around coupon fraud have driven retailers to consider using coupons with more security or one time offer numbers that are represented by 2D barcodes. This is a valid option, but if coupons are now offered on mobile devices in this form, it can cause some problems. What if the consumer has 6 coupons? Does the attendant scan their phone, and then hand it back and then wait for them to scroll to the next coupon? From a transactional perspective, this is awkward, time consuming, and prone to dropping a mobile device. Instead, a better option is to move customers to a ‘coupon to card’ strategy that allows them to opt in to offers. As soon as the customer purchases an item with an outstanding offer and their loyalty card identifies them, they automatically get the offer. No coupon required. Fraud potential is reduced. Transaction is not impeded. Not simple, but a better solution for many reasons.
There are many many other potential uses for 2D that are more useful and productive at a point of service like payment or tickets, but this discussion is focused on traditional POS usage.
Here are some general recommendations based on experience with scanning from mobile devices and scanning 2D barcodes in a grocery environment:
If a retailer wants to read traditional 1D barcodes (not 2D barcodes) from the screen of a mobile device:
If a retailer wants to read 2D barcodes on either paper or mobile devices:
2D barcodes are potentially useful in the right environment. Retailers are right to be ready to use them. The bigger question is whether they are used for the right thing in the right context. Retailers should be careful that they enhance the customer and store staff experience, and not make more work for all concerned!