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National Barcode Day 2023

June 26, 2023


If you are not a supply chain professional, you might wonder why anyone should take time to celebrate the barcode. As I wrote in a previous article, “Most of us understand that barcodes contain information that help retailers track inventory; however, few of us know much more about them.”[1] How much information do they contain? The staff at Wasp Barcode Technologies explains, “A barcode is ‘A machine-readable code in the form of numbers and a pattern of parallel lines of varying widths, printed on and identifying a product.’ But in truth a barcode is so much more. Barcode systems help businesses and organizations track products, prices, and stock levels for centralized management in a computer software system allowing for incredible increases in productivity and efficiency. The lines and patterns on a barcode are actually representations of numbers and data and their development allowed basic information about a product to be easily read by an optical scanning device, a barcode scanner, and automatically entered into a computer system.”[2]


The linear barcode, with which we are most familiar, is also known as a Universal Product Code (UPC) and is a one-dimensional (1D) code. Some people predict that these 1D barcodes will become obsolete in the near future as more sophisticated tagging technologies — like Quick Response (QR) Codes and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) — gain momentum.[3] Since those tagging techniques are costlier alternatives for manufacturers, the lowly barcode will probably be around for a little while longer. The advantage of more sophisticated techniques is that they can provide much more information than 1D barcodes.


From 1D to 2D Barcodes


The staff at MIDCOM Data Technologies writes, “The future of barcode scanning looks exciting. Intriguing futuristic developments are underway which will make barcode scanning even more valuable.”[4] Technically, the “barcodes” to which they refer won’t contain “bars” at all. They explain, “We are already seeing 2D barcodes in action in the shape of QR codes. 2D barcodes are set to replace 1D barcodes on all goods and products.” Why are the familiar bars being replaced with those matrix-looking QR codes? The MIDCOM Data Technologies staff explains, “The 2D barcodes are slowly becoming the norm and displacing 1D barcodes owing to several inherent benefits. While 1D barcodes can hold only 85 characters of information, 2D barcodes can encapsulate a much more impressive 7,000 characters of information.”


Journalist Jennifer A. Kingson agrees that the traditional barcode will soon be an historical artefact. She explains, “The humble and familiar barcode — a staple on consumer packaging for nearly 50 years — will soon be replaced with a more robust and muscular successor that offers far more information about the product inside. The new ‘2D’ barcodes will unlock reams of online extras (for consumers) and revolutionize inventory management (for retailers). Scanning them may tell us the field where something was grown, the factory where a garment was sewn, the sustainability practices of the company that made it — or the washing instructions.”[5] She adds, “The technology promises to improve product safety, give us greater transparency into the origins of the items we buy, and enhance our lives with handy suggestions about how to use or prepare our purchases.”


Although QR codes are coming into their own, they were invented nearly three decades ago by Japanese engineer Masahiro Hara. According to Wikipedia, Hara was tasked with developing a system to trace car parts and came up with the idea for the QR code while playing a game of Go.


The Way Ahead


As I noted at the beginning of this article, most of us don’t understand the data traditional 1D barcodes contain. As more QR codes are introduced, that situation should change because most of us have QR readers on our smartphones. If you have used your QR reader, you already appreciate how QR codes (aka 2D barcodes) can be helpful. Earlier this year, Hara announced, “I am in the process of inventing a new QR code. It will take some time though. Unlike the current version, the new code system will have colors and it may be rectangular rather than the present square shape.”[6] The new design on which he is working is intended to hold even more information than today’s QR codes.


The MIDCOM Data Technologies staff predicts that another interesting tagging technology — the ‘image barcode’ — is coming in the future. They explain, “Image scanning AI is consistently evolving and improving. Soon a time will come when a scanner will identify product information just by scanning the image of the item alone.” They add, “Digimarc Barcodes is another cutting-edge development. Here, the barcode is subtly impressed and spread across the item so that humans cannot perceive it. However, sophisticated scanners can pick up the barcode reliably and can thus scan what appear to be barcode-free items to customers. An intrinsic advantage of the Digimarc barcode is that it can be applied to items that you could not previously barcode.”


Concluding Thoughts


Journalist Matthew Stern reports, “By 2027, the QR code, or technology very similar to it, is slated to replace what has been a familiar sight in retail for nearly 50 years — the UPC code. GS1 US, the non-profit standards body in charge of barcodes, has announced an initiative called Sunrise 2027, which will replace the long-familiar UPC with a two-dimensional, QR-code-style alternative.”[7] The term “barcode” will become anachronistic as the ubiquity of QR codes increases. As a result, National Barcode Day may transition into National QR Code Day. Nevertheless, let us hope that the important role that barcodes played in supply chain history is not forgotten.


[1] Stephen DeAngelis, “National Barcode Day 2022,” Enterra Insights, 24 June 2022.
[2] Staff, “Barcode: The Ultimate Guide to Barcodes,” Wasp Barcode Technologies.
[3] Staff, “The New Scanning Code Technology That’s Making Barcodes Obsolete,” HP Tech Takes/ …, 11 June 2018.
[4] Staff, “Future of Barcode Scanning,” MIDCOM Data Technologies.
[5] Jennifer A. Kingson, “QR-style ‘2D barcodes’ will revolutionize retail as we know it,” Axios, 17 April 2023.
[6] Staff, “New QR code to have colours, will hold more data, says Japanese inventor Hara,” The Hindu, 27 January 2023.
[7] Matthew Stern, “Will 2-D Barcodes Add A New Dimension To Shopping?” RetailWire, 19 April 2023.

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