After more than 25 years of bar coding there are still 7% of retail bar codes failing to scan at the checkout! This causes queues at the checkout and customer dissatisfaction and impacts efficiency and accuracy for both the customer and the retailer.
Another increasingly critical concern is the automated distribution centres installed by the major retailers - and particularly by e-commerce retailers. Often the bar code has only one chance to be scanned as it passes a fixed position scanner on a conveyor belt. If it fails to be read, this leads to products having to wait for manual sortation, often leading to stock being unavailable on the store shelf, loss of sales, further customer dissatisfaction and even loss of customer retention.
A major retailer quoted an amazing 16% of complaints from customers was due to an out of stock situation.
Non scannable barcodes are costing retailers hard cash and so they are now insisting on barcodes meeting a Grade 2 CEN/ISO standard (or ANSI Grade C) which can only be achieved consistently by using a verifier compliant with ISO/IEC 15426-1 standard. Many retailers are imposing heavy penalties upon suppliers who fail to provide properly verified bar codes on their products - both the individual item codes AND the 'traded unit' or outer carton of products - and even pallet labels, too.
Below are two extracts from the GS1publication ‘Bar Coding, Getting it Right’, the barcoding best practice guidelines:
“It is recommended that the bar codes on the finished products are then verified to ensure that all the production processes have resulted in a scannable bar code symbol or symbols. Verification equipment meeting the requirements of ISO/IEC 15426-1 should be used as it will provide a check on all the important criteria.
‘Barcodes are driving our business’ says one well-known retailer. They must scan first time every time.
The accurate printing of bar codes is fundamental for effective value chain management as the rapid and accurate scanning in of EAN/UCC data provides the basis for all the electronic business transactions that follow." - Sir Terry Leahy, TESCO
Bar code scanning (as opposed to Verification) provides no indication of bar code quality as it gives no information about the symbol other than whether it can be scanned or not by that particular scanner at that particular time in the pertaining lighting conditions. Scanners look for sufficient contrast between the bars and spaces, measure, and decode the different widths of bars and spaces into data that is sent to the software system.
The General EAN/UCC Specifications provide a process for the production of bar codes that should result in scannable symbols, but a verification procedure needs to be followed to provide more information about symbol quality.
Production Staff need to be trained in the use of verification equipment, and must always check symbols visually before using a verifier that meets the requirements of ISO/IEC 15426-1 to provide detailed information. Each symbol should be checked to see that the bars are the correct height, and that no horizontal lines or spaces cut through the symbol. Any marks crossing the bars and spaces of a symbol will reduce its effective height and make it very difficult to scan.
The position of the bar code on the packaging will need to be checked to see that it meets the EAN/UCC specifications. Any final labelling or wrapping should also be examined to ensure that the bar codes remain visible and scannable.
When checking symbol quality, you should attempt to simulate the final, filled product or package. If, for example, a white background is printed on to a clear substrate, check the colour of the contents of the item. If it is not possible to simulate the contents, verify the bar code twice, once over a black background and next over a white background. The worse of the two grades will provide information about the worst possibility.
Having checked that the bar codes are in the correct position and are not shortened in height (truncated), verification equipment can then be used to provide an overall grade for each symbol.