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1 Understanding barcodes This ebook gives an overview of product codes, barcodes, scanners and describes where barcode management could fit in your business.

2 to Understanding barcodes Staff in retail and wholesale businesses that work with point of sale or inventory management software can do hundreds of product searches a day. Each one of these searches takes time, and is an opportunity to make mistakes. Using barcodes to find products speeds things up, and reduces mistakes. This ebook gives an overview of product codes, barcodes, scanners and describes where barcode management could fit in your business. Understanding barcodes

3 A barcode is simply a graphical representation of a number or product code - it s something that a computer can read automatically. There are different types of barcode, used for different things. D (linear) barcodes These are the most common types of barcode for products in the retail and wholesale world. They are used to represent product identifiers such as EAN, UPC and ISBN codes - or in fact any other code that you want to produce a barcode for. Here we can see a barcode for the number 0809 (note that the two small digits on either end are included). The number is printed on the code purely for reference - it s not read by the barcode scanner, but can be useful for the operator if the barcode itself is damaged so much that it won t scan. D barcodes These are most commonly seen on carrier (shipping) labels, and have a more complex but robust coding methodology. You won t generally be putting these on products, so we won t go into detail here. Understanding barcodes

4 QR codes A QR (Quick Response) code is a square image that can be used to encode a number of different types of data. Most commonly, they are used to encode a web address (URL), so that when they are scanned on a device such as a phone or tablet, the user is taken direct to that URL. They can also be used to encode an amount of text, a phone number, a business card and so on. You can generate QR codes for free at Why not just add a website URL to your advert or flyer, you might ask? In order to monitor your marketing, to see if it s actually generating any traffic, you will want to add tracking information to the URL - perhaps a variable such as?source=flyer. When people are typing in these URLs, they often ignore the tracking section, so you lose sight of where the visitor came from. With a QR code, it s much quicker for them to scan, and it will maintain your tracking data. The pattern of stripes and gaps on a barcode is called the symbology, or format. There are a number of different formats available, and the one used depends on the type of data you re encoding. Some are more compressed than others, some support only numbers, some require the data to be a certain length, and so on. For a full list of barcode symbologies, have a look at the Wikipedia page. The two most commonly used are EAN/ UPC and Code 8. EAN-8, EAN-, UPC-A EAN and UPC codes are always 8, or digit numbers. If you re buying commercial products with barcodes already pre-printed, they will be in one of these formats. If you re printing labels for products where you have the UPC or EAN - perhaps you re manufacturing your own goods and have bought your own codes - use these formats to ensure that retailers of your product can scan the item using their hardware. Code 8 This is a very versatile format that allows most characters, and is supported automatically by most barcode scanners. Since the coding needs to support letters as well as numbers, it s not particularly compact, with a -digit number coming in at about twice the width of the same number encoded in EAN-. Here is in both formats: Understanding barcodes If you re needing to print a barcode on small labels, consider the maximum with of the number or SKU that you need to encode.

5 Every time you work with physical items, you need to tell your software system which item you re dealing with. It might be at a retail checkout, receiving goods in from a supplier, or running a stock count in your warehouse. Scanning a barcode is faster than typing into a search box, and significantly reduces the likelihood of mistakes. Getting the right product to come up assumes that the barcode on the item is right, and that you ve assigned it to the right item (and only one item) in your software- so it s not 00% foolproof. Retail checkout When you ve a customer in your store wanting to buy something, you don t want to keep them hanging around. Using barcodes speeds up Point of Sale significantly. Another great advantage of using barcodes in store is that your operators don t need to know all the items you stock - which means your new staff can be checkout operators almost immediately. Goods-out / shipping If you scan items as you pack them, a system can check that you are putting the right items into the box, and the correct quantity. Getting this wrong is expensive and usually results in an unhappy customer. You usually need dedicated warehouse management software for this. Goods-in In a similar way, checking the goods into your warehouse needs to be done accurately and quickly. If you can bring up a purchase order and scan items in, then your software will quickly tell you whether you ve been short shipped, or been sent the wrong items. Understanding barcodes Stock take Traditionally, a stock take is done once a month (or less frequently) by printing out sheets and sheets of items from Excel, counting items on the shelf, amending the value on the paper, sitting down in front of the spreadsheet to update it, and then importing it back into your software. Not only does this take a while, there are multiple steps where you could introduce mistakes. If you can take a barcode-enabled device around the warehouse with you, scan items and type the quantity straight in, then you re virtually eliminating mistakes, and allowing your warehouse operator to check a small number of items on a regular basis - which probably fits perfectly with the free time he gets in between shipping and receiving goods.

6 Discount coupons You might also want to put barcodes onto coupons, so that you can scan them quickly at your shop checkout. If your operator just has to scan a code, they are more likely to get it right. QR codes As described earlier, QR codes are great for taking people to pages on your website. There are so many ways to use them; add one to your shop receipt, to the bottom of the packing slip for mail order goods, print them out to put in your shop window for people to scan when you re closed, add them to product swing tags... you get the idea! Make sure you take the user to exactly the right web page they want - not just to your home page. Understanding barcodes

7 Generating the barcode image itself is different process from creating the numbers which would be fed into the barcode system. The actual number you print as a barcode depends on the end use of the barcode; if it s purely for internal use in your store or warehouse, then you can create your own number - perhaps it s the product ID on your database. If you re creating barcode labels to put on your own manufactured products for another business to use, then your need to buy a set of unique numbers from the central registry, which guarantees that no other business will be using the same code. US merchants should visit and UK merchants visit If you re using label printing software, then all you need to do is load your codes in and the barcode image will be created for you, placed on the label as per your template, and sent to a PDF file that you can print on your label printer. If you re creating your own labels, you can buy barcode fonts, and combine your product data with a mail merge to create labels. There are a number of barcode fonts available at Understanding barcodes 7

8 Let s assume that you re printing a barcode for a product label, or warehouse shelf label. The first thing to decide is what kind of printer to use. You can either feed Letter or A sheets into a standard desktop printer, and have multiple labels on one page, or you can use a dedicated label printer which can print one label at a time. A dedicated label printer takes rolls of labels, and generally all you need to do is set your document page size to the same size as the label. If you re using label printing software, you ll set your label size at the start, and it will produce PDF files that are the same size as your label. Thermal label printers take heat-sensitive labels that don t require any ink; it s a very clean and quick way of printing, and the resulting label is very robust. Barcode labels are stuck on products that get bashed around, and you don t want the code getting damaged to the point where it can t be scanned. The taller you make the barcode, the less likely it is to be damaged to the point where it won t scan - there s more chance of having a clean, undamaged scan line across the vertical bars. Understanding barcodes 8

9 In order to read a barcode into your software, you ll need a barcode scanner. If you re using a desktop or laptop computer, then you can either use a wired scanner (generally via USB) or a wireless scanner (via Bluetooth). Scanners are available with either infra-red or laser reading devices. Infra red scanners are generally cheaper, but slower to recognize the barcode than laser scanners- and sometimes struggle to read codes in bright light. You can tell a laser scanner by the sharp, thin red line when you scan, whereas an infra red scanner emits a broad band of light. Laptop + desktop scanners Scanners plugged into a computer act as an extra keyboard; when you scan a barcode the numbers appear as though you were typing them. In your barcode scanner manual you ll see this called keyboard wedge. You need to make sure that the cursor is in the right place on your screen before you scan. Most software systems require that the scanner also sends an enter command when it s read the code. This is the default setting for most scanners, but if you find that your barcode isn t being submitted, have a look at the manual for your barcode reader. Bluetooth scanners Bluetooth scanners work in the same way as wired scanners in that they do the work of a keyboard and then hit enter when they are done. They sometimes need a bit of time to pair up with your computer. There are a number of different scanners available, but we ve had good experience with the Motorola CS000 series (shown left on a docking/charging station). Understanding barcodes 9

10 Android tablets Some point of sale and warehouse systems will run in a web browser, which means that you can access them via a tablet on a wireless connection. However, tablets don t have barcode scanners built in. Android tablets usually have a USB port so you can use either a wired scanner (with an adapter), or a Bluetooth scanner. If you are using a Bluetooth scanner, you ll need to change the settings on your tablet to keep the onscreen keyboard available even when the Bluetooth keyboard (the scanner) is connected. It s worth investing in a rugged case for your tablet to protect it against damage; Otterbox do a good range for Android tablets. ipads ipads don t have USB ports, which means that you don t have the option to use a wired scanner. Whilst you can get USB adapters for the ipad, they don t provide enough power for a barcode scanner. This means you d need to use a Bluetooth scanner, but there s no way on an ipad to run the onscreen keyboard at the same time as the scanner. Unless your software has a built-in keyboard, every time you need to type something you need to un-pair the scanner - it s not very practical. Mobile warehouse devices If you re using warehouse management software that runs on a mobile computer / rugged PDA, then it will generally have a built in scanner. Only some mobile devices will run web applications properly; and then only if the web app has been designed to support smaller screens. Most mobile computers run Windows Mobile and an old version of Internet Explorer, and it s not particularly fast. It s best to stick with software designed for mobile warehouse devices if that s the route you want to go down. Smartphones There are lots of barcode reader apps available for smartphones; these use the phone s camera to capture the barcode. Compared to a proper infra red or laser scanner, capturing barcodes on a phone is really slow. It s OK for consumer needs however, such as scanning a QR code to look up a product online. In theory, you could connect a Bluetooth scanner to your phone for retail or warehouse use, but you d need to make sure that your software runs well on the phone first. Understanding barcodes 0

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