Although the first patent for bar codes was issued in the early 1950's, it wasn't until June 1974 that the first bar code scanner, made by National Cash Register Co. (now called NCR Corp.), was installed at Marsh's grocery store in Troy, Ohio. (A bit of retail trivia - the first bar coded product scanned at a check-out counter was a pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum!) It quickly spread to other types of retail stores because of its overwhelming success in speeding up the checkout process. (Trivia #2 - NASA uses bar codes to monitor the thousands of heat tiles that need to be replaced after every space shuttle trip.)

Bar codes are machine-readable symbols made up of black and white lines (the white spaces in between the black lines are part of the code) of four different thicknesses. They are used in retail point of sale (POS) software systems for the identification, tracking, and inventory of products, but their primary gift is the speed and accuracy they bring to the check-out – basically, a bar code is just the item’s part number in a machine readable format. The UPC bar code (Universal Product Code) is the North American standard for the retail industry (the rest of the world tends to use the similar “EAN” Article Numbering System), although several other variations also exist.

reduce errors

  • Data entry errors at point of sale and receiving can be a significant source of costs and all the problems related to them, such as unhappy customers, extra freight costs, the time spent to track down problems, etc., etc. The use of bar codes effectively eliminates data entry errors. Bar code scanners are incredibly accurate, with error rates as low as 1 error per 36 trillion characters, depending on the type of bar code used. (The typical error rate for human data entry is 1 error per 300 characters). Reduce errors, reduce cost …


  • save time with barcodes

  • Although obviously used at the check-out counter to help speed throughput (and thereby improve the customer’s experience), bar codes save significant time in other applications. A frequently used example involves the taking of inventory. One customer’s six-month inventory task that used to take a full crew of 25 employees about two days to complete (with the resulting lost productivity time and overtime expense) was reduced to four employees and a total of about five hours with bar codes. As an added bonus, this much-reduced task of taking inventory can be done more frequently, thereby improving the accuracy of your stock counts.

    Similar savings in time can be realized when receiving purchase orders. Day after day, the small, incremental savings by being able to scan bar codes instead of writing down part and serial numbers can add up to substantial amounts. Save time, save money …


how a barcode works

  • Each character is represented by a pattern of these wide and narrow bars. An optical scanner, or bar code reader, uses a photo sensor to convert the bar code into an electrical signal as it moves across (called “scrubbing”) a bar code. The bar code reader measures the relative widths of the bars and spaces, translates the different patterns back into regular characters, and transfers them to the POS software. Every bar code begins and ends with special start and stop characters to help the reader detect the bar code and decide whether it is being scanned forward or backward.

    One of the most common misconceptions is that people can load their inventory into the system by scanning the bar codes and the system would know everything about the item including it's description, supplier, cost price, suggested retail and part number. In fact, it only gives the part number. With POS software, such as Windward System Five, when you scan in the part number, the system can lookup the item from the database and display the extra information such as description, price, etc. (If you are adding brand new inventory items you must manually enter in these details in to the database).

reduce regulatory requirement hassles

  • Some regulatory agencies (FDA, USDA, EPA, etc.) may impose labeling requirements that you must meet. While it may be part of the cost of doing business, you can save time and money by using bar codes in your own operations. You can collect required shipping manifest information quickly and accurately by scanning the bar code labels that you printed to satisfy the Regulatory Agency. Less hassles, less heartburn …




Some of the "Tips & Tricks" of bar codes we can help you with include: 

increase sales

Manufacturers can often supply you with a disk or CD with the lookup information for each barcode, then good POS software will be able to lookup the information when creating a new part, saving you from having to manually type in the description and part number. (Note: While this sounds like the way to go, it's often very difficult to get this information from the suppliers).

increase sales

More commonly, a manufacturer might make a small change to an item and then issue a new barcode number. In the store, if you consider the old and the new items effectively the same, then you would end up having two different barcode numbers for the same part.

increase sales

Typically, each item has one barcode number and one barcode number represents only one item. Sometimes, however, manufacturers have unfortunately created several items all with the same number. (An example would be boxes of paper in different colors. Each should have its own number, but some places use one barcode number for all boxes of paper, regardless of the color). Good POS software can work around this by generating unique bar codes for each item.

increase sales

And, to make matters worse, many manufactures use a model number on the box that is different from the barcode number. When you order product from them, you may need to give them their model number and not the barcode number. While this might not make sense, it is, unfortunately, the way the world works.