barcoding & getting barcodes

Before I learnt about barcoding I took those little blocks of vertical lines completely for granted. Barcoding has largely changed the nature of business across the world. We can all thank the humble barcode for speeding up our daily shopping. In addition, they allow companies to easily track and manage assets, allow for a streamlined ticketing procedure (think of large concerts and theatre), keep track of item movements such as rent-a-cars, mail and parcels and in addition they can even go as far as helping scientists keep track of insects like bees!

In this article I’ll only be covering the world of “retail barcodes”, particularly with the entrepreneur and small business owner in mind. Unfortunately the barcoding process can appear quite daunting when first entering this world. There’s no way around this – it’s a necessary evil to familiarise oneself with the ins and outs of this industry when launching a product to the retail market.

When creating a product to sell, the first time that the product owner usually even considers barcoding is once the product has been created, the packaging has been designed and the retailers where the product will be distributed have been approached. This is when the owner will usually get a nasty surprise – “We can’t sell your product without a valid EAN or UPC barcode.”

They will then get referred to a company called GS1 – the global distributor and regulator of barcode numbers throughout the world. They are the body that are in charge of distributing unique 12 and 13 digit numbers that can then be translated into images (vertical bars with different sizes and spaces), be linked to specific products and finally be able to be scanned at retail stores – all with the purpose of speeding up the shopping experience. “Can’t I just make up my own barcode numbers?” is often the next thought. Unfortunately you can’t. Every product in the world requires a completely unique number. If people could create their own numbers willy-nilly, duplication would occur, wreaking havoc with point-of-sale systems.

While most businesses and individuals get their barcodes through GS1, other people buy barcodes through barcode resellers

Every country contains it’s own division of GS1 providing UPC, EAN, EAN-8 and many other types of barcodes. Barcode resellers can be found online across the world providing EAN and UPC codes. UPC numbers are 12 digits long, originating from the USA. When the rest of the world started uilising barcode systems an extra digit was added to the UPC codes, leading to billions of extra combinations with the new 13 digit EAN numbers. Barcoding as a system has become fairly standardised across the world so numbers from any particular GS1 or barcode reseller can be used in any country in the world.

Resellers often also sell auxiliary barcode services such as ISBN barcodes (for books), ISSN barcodes (for magazines and newspaper) and printed labels in addition to equipment such as specialised barcode printers and scanners.

Once you’ve purchased your barcode number(s) the next step is to either append images of your barcode to your product packaging or get labels printed that will be stuck onto your products. Lastly, you need to take a sample of your product(s) to your retailers and have them scan your product and link the product information (name, size, description, price etc.) with the corresponding barcode number(s). It may sound like a daunting process, but fortunately most barcode companies are very helpful and will guide you every step of the way.

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