by Nate Schubert
For many of us, a barcode is nothing more than a rectangle with bars or a square with a strange pattern that takes up space on things like products, boarding passes, receipts, business cards and more. Since barcodes have been around in some aspect or another since the 30's, we have become accustomed with their presence and thus spend little time thinking about the many varied functions they serve.
Barcodes For Retail Products
Perhaps the most commonly known use of barcode technology is in the UPC barcode, first utilized in grocery checkout environments in 1974. The UPC Code is scanned at retail checkout locations and contains information about the company that makes the product, and then information about the specific product such as count, size, color, etc. The UPC code does not contain specific price information, but when the UPC barcode is scanned, the code is checked against the database in the retail establishment to locate the most up-to-date price.Most recently, DataBar barcodes have been introduced to contain more information about the product such as expiration date, and when the item was picked in terms of produce. DataBar barcodes can make it much easier for grocery stores to keep fresh products on display, and can give loads more information about a product to any consumer who has a barcode scanning app capable of reading the DataBar barcode.
If you have a product that you would like to sell in your own store and nowhere else, then you won't need to get a UPC barcode. If you want to sell your product elsewhere, however, a UPC barcode will most likely be required.
Barcodes For Document TrackingAs businesses acquire more information, they require more documentation. Many documents within an organization are shuffled from department to department, person to person and this can sometimes result in loss of documentation, and thus loss of data. The problem of lost documents and lack of accountability can be resolved in large part through the use of barcodes. By barcoding individual documents or stacks of documents, a system can be set up which will keep track of who is in possession of them, whether by person or department.
Unlike selling products for retail checkout, document tracking can require any sort of barcode depending on how much information you want to encode, and what you want to encode. For example:
- Code 39 can create barcodes consisting of upper case letters, numbers and some ASCII symbols.
- Code 128 can create upper/lower case letters, numbers and ASCII symbols.
- PDF417 can create barcodes upwards of 800 characters consisting of upper/lower case letters, numbers, ASCII symbols, and even functions.
- Data Matrix can also create barcodes up to approximately 800 characters and has the same capabilities as PDF417, but it can be made very small.
2D Barcodes in MarketingOriginally put into use in Japan, the use of 2D barcoding in marketing promotions has recently gained popularity in the United States as cell phone technology has improved to the point where mobile barcode scanning applications are available to the average consumer. Scanning a 2D barcode on a poster, a store front sticker or in a magazine or newspaper can bring up a web address which can contain additional information, a contest entry form, sign in or really anything you like. Industries of every type are still getting their feet wet in terms of 2D barcoding, but we expect many more creative implementations of 2D barcodes in marketing promotions in the future.
Barcodes For Business Cards?One of the most popular recent uses of barcode technology is using 2D barcodes like QR Code to store contact information. Scan a 2D barcode on a business card, for example, and your contacts list may be updated with any number of pieces of information including contact name, telephone, fax, email, physical address and more. While this is a new use for 2D barcodes, it has caught on like wildfire and can be extremely convenient for anyone who has a mobile device with a barcode scanning app.
There are obviously a great many more uses for barcodes in industries throughout the marketplace as well as for personal use at home, but these are most likely some of the most common uses to date, and some of the most useful implementations.
What are some other uses for barcodes that you have seen or would like to see?