Can you scan it? Yes you can…

Data and information is the lifeblood of any business. And these technologies collect that information in an almost instantly usable format for quick decision making on areas of the FMCG trade such as stock and logistics.
Data and information is the lifeblood of any business. And these technologies collect that information in an almost instantly usable format for quick decision making on areas of the FMCG trade such as stock and logistics.

As a retailer you are under serious obligations to provide the correct on-shelf prices at all times. Bar coding, labeling and scanning technologies can make this job simpler

Print

PrintPrint
Advisor

29 August 2008 | 0

Data and information is the lifeblood of any business. And these technologies collect that information in an almost instantly usable format for quick decision making on areas of the FMCG trade such as stock and logistics.

Like so much technology, the question what did we do before ‘X’ came along can often be a perennial question.
Mobile phones are a prime example of the “how did we survive before we had this” principle. Now we have small devices tethered to our persons 24/7 just in case we miss a call or text.

Bar coding, labeling and scanning technology has a similar role in the retail environment. Data and information is the lifeblood of any business. And these technologies collect that information in an almost instantly usable format for quick decision making on areas of the FMCG trade such as stock and logistics.

But as the grocery trade continues its upward curve of intense competition how can these technologies help and what new tweaks have come along to maximize their helpfulness to the retailer?

Fancy new technology or old school humdrum?

Conn Loy of Ioresource said that during the last 12 months a number of manufacturers have introduced fixed position imagers as their latest innovation. He said imagers operate quite differently from scanners and are more akin to the cameras commonly featured on mobile phones and as such they need to ‘focus’ in order to capture the data and a perception can arise that they are slower to scan than traditional scanners when attempting to decipher some barcodes. “They do have other benefits as they can also be used to capture images in camera mode and some devices can be used for optical character recognition, but these features are quite niche and most PoS applications, other than utility bill payment, don’t have a requirement for them,” says Loy.

According to Loy barcode and labelling printers have also continued to develop and evolve in the market.
He says many retail applications have traditionally used a small desktop printer for ‘on demand’ labeling in-store, be it product labelling, shelf edge labelling and so on with larger volume label printing being done either off-site or by a larger printer in the back office.

Loy says the last 18 months has seen progression towards portable label printers such as the Printek MtP family or more compact high volume printers such as the C Series from Cognitive which, he claims, combine the foot print of traditional desktop printers with the speed and related capabilities of the bigger mid-range devices used in the past. “The advantages to the retailer of portable printers such as the Printek MtP is that it provides users with the freedom and flexibility to print on demand around the store without having to return to a fixed location, print and then go back to the product, shelf or location with the label/tag – reducing time, avoiding interruptions and delivering a more efficient and effective working solution.”

But are there still merchants not availing of these technologies and if so why?

Loy says that although scanning and labelling equipment is now more affordable than ever before, many small to medium size retailers continue to opt for systems that provide the bare minimum in terms of features because their primary concern is to reduce the up front spend on their business technology.

Capturing and analysing bar code data has enabled significant operational efficiencies in ordering and inventory, merchandising, checkout productivity and customer service.

“In some instances this is certainly the more appropriate approach, but in others you need to take a look at the total cost of investment to the business and select the solution/technology that will deliver medium term benefits which will out weigh the immediate up front cost and reap greater return on investment over three to five years. If you intend to still be in business in five, or even 10 years time, it is important to take a perspective that reflects your goals and requirements when investing in business technology and target your spend accordingly.

“Of course one over-riding consideration that may result in some retailers not using given technologies is that they are superfluous and bring no tangible benefits to their business. If you don’t need a portable label printer or a bioptic laser scanner and so on then you should focus your technology spend elsewhere. Having the latest and greatest technology just for the sake of having it is not prudent business practice.”

Using data to increase profits

PC Cubed’s Celine Hackett said the major change PC Cubed has seen in bar coding and scanning technology is the speed and accuracy of the technology.

Hackett says developments such as presentation imagers engineered to decode all standard printed and electronic 1D, PDF and 2D matrix codes has given retailers the ability to increase the speed at the point of sale.

In addition, scanners are getting smaller but definitely faster. “Gone are the days of manual inventory and making decisions based on hunches – scanning technology is becoming more intelligent and helps retailers manage their businesses more efficiently. Advancements in engineering, means speedier scans and higher performing bar code scanners.
“With a barcode and a reliable barcode scanner, data entry errors are virtually eliminated. Storing and referencing the collected data with the use of a computerised database have revolutionised the way we think about gathering and reporting data,” says Hackett.

Productivity improvements are the main benefits Hackett sees from these new techs. For example, by reducing the need to rescan bar codes or key in data, resulting in shorter lines at the retail point of sale. Also, according to Hackett, capturing and analysing bar code data has enabled significant operational efficiencies in ordering and inventory, merchandising, checkout productivity and customer service.

She says because of this capability, laser scanners, in certain configurations, are especially suited to high volume checkouts such as those found in supermarkets. “With a bar code data-collection solution, capturing data is faster and more accurate, costs are lower, mistakes are minimised, and managing inventory is much easier. A reduction in labour costs is the most obvious benefit of bar code data collection.

“In many cases, this cost savings pays for the entire data collection system. Using bar codes is one of the best ways to reduce inventory levels. Keeping a tight handle on inventory can save significant amounts of money. A bar code system can easily gather information that would be difficult or impossible to gather in other ways. This allows managers to make fully informed decisions that can affect the direction of a department or company.”

RFID still too expensive for most

Victor Donnelly of Vision ID says for many years the thinking in retail circles was that RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) would become the norm within the retail environment. A technology that would virtually eliminate POS systems altogether due to RFID’s ability to read every item within the shopping basket before the customer reaches the till, as well as accessing the customers debit or credit card and taking payment.

This RFID technology actually exists and has done for many years, however the costs associated with it prove unworkable, a typical barcode would cost approximately €0.01c and an RFID tag would set you back about €0.20c.

RFID (radio frequency identification) would virtually eliminate POS systems altogether due to RFID’s ability to read every item within the shopping basket before the customer reaches the till, as well as accessing the customers debit or credit card and taking payment.

RFID (radio frequency identification) would virtually eliminate POS systems altogether due to RFID’s ability to read every item within the shopping basket before the customer reaches the till, as well as accessing the customers debit or credit card and taking payment.

The prodigal child for bar-coding at the moment is data matrix barcodes which are capable of storing vast amounts of information in a very small space. Many industries are now turning to data matrix as a viable option and this is becoming particularly noticeable in pharmaceutical products being retailed with a major push for this technology to be adapted globally by the American based FDA.

In terms of benefits he said as with any business the benefits are increased margins with reduced waste. An asset management system in store will monitor instantaneously what is on the shelves and what is in stores, it will allow for order processing that will ensure minimum waste as well as tracking loss leaders more accurately. Barcoding technology also allows for price increase and decrease without having to re-label each item, it will also manage on-pack or in-store promotional events through scanning technology.

Barry Long of mobile solutions and auto-ID specialists Zetes says the main technological development has been improved ergonomics of the devices and more standardisation of operating systems which means they can connect to any application such as using Windows Mobile. This has meant there are far more providers within the market and price points have come down which is fuelling demand.

“For retailers we now have virtually all the tier one players already using auto ID and wireless for real time data capture. But as prices have dropped we see the adoption curve maturing to the early majority phase whereas before we were at the early adopter level. It is now the tier two and some tier three retailers adopting these technologies.”

Long says the main benefits to the retailer were improved visibility of stock right through the supply chain. He says stock ordering and management is much better as wireless supports real time data flows. This means the stores are better able to serve customer demand and operate more efficiently with stock coming in just in time rather than having to maintain a large warehouse.

In addition, he says, pricing is far more accurate with shelf edge labelling solutions ensuring in-store prices are always kept up to date.

There is also far less wastage as price markdown solutions help to manage stock nearing the end of its shelf life. “Nowadays retailers are required by law to sell off goods (mainly food) rather than dispose of them in landfill sites. In fact it costs the retailers far more to dispose of out of date food than to sell it off for virtually nothing, which is why they are investing in price markdown solutions that allow better management of the discounting process,” said Long.

New technology bar codes for fresh foods

Pat Kelly of Merit Solution explained that there are new barcoding symbologies being introduced called GS1 DataBar and composite symbologies.

Kelly said the reason for these being introduced is that as well as saying what the product is, barcodes will soon be expected to supply production details, such as batch number and use by date.

This information can be held in an extension to the already in-use EAN and UPC barcodes, called a composite component, which goes above the bars. “There are also new barcode types being introduced, known as reduced space symbologies (RSS) also known as GS1 DataBar which can encode the same details in one smaller barcode.

“GS1 DataBar and Composite barcodes will help to solve many problems in the grocery industry and in healthcare, where items are too small to allow for older barcode symbologies, or additional information needs to be encoded such as expiration dates or serial numbers or on hard to mark items like fresh foods such as apples and oranges,” said Kelly.

According to Kelly the GS1 DataBar with its smaller size, will enable Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN) identification for previously hard-to-mark products like fresh foods (that previously would have been PLU items) increasing shrink reduction and category management.

“The GS1 DataBar’s ability to carry serial numbers, lot numbers, and expiration dates will give greater scope for more solutions to be introduced that will allow product authentication and traceability, product quality and effectiveness, variable measure product identification, and couponing. EAN/UPC will continue to be used for the foreseeable future as the decision to adopt the GS1 DataBar for existing applications will be made by brand owners,” he says.

THE FUTURE?

Conn Loy: The predominant trend towards, faster, smaller less obtrusive devices and a more pronounced focus on total cost of ownership is likely to continue as retailers seek to reduce the amount of counter space occupied by their PoS hardware and reduce costs as retail businesses adjust to the change in the economy during 2008 and beyond.

Manufacturers and solutions providers have moved to cater for GS1 DataBar prior to implementation in 2010. Many existing scanners and printers may already support the symbology, others will be upgradable and some will have to be replaced.
Manufacturers seem intent on pushing fixed position imagers into the general retail space over the next few years. They need to do a lot more work on the technology before it will be a suitable for general PoS solutions.

Celine Hackett: Over the next 12 months you will experience more emphasis on self scanning as larger food retailers look to implement a solution. This will in turn improve the quality of shelf edge labelling in line with the product detail.
With regard to mobility solutions, the smaller retailer will discover this is now an affordable solution for their business. With hardware pricing decreasing and software becoming more user friendly the smaller retailer can more easily implement a solution that will give him improved efficiencies that the large retailer enjoy.

We will see more 2D barcoding solutions emerging, especially by logistic companies delivering product.
Cashless solutions in the form of coupons, top-ups and account cards will appear in places we have never considered.
In brief improved technology will allow the retailer to concentrate on the most important part of the business – the customer and the service they demand.

Victor Donnelly: VisionID understands that data-matrix bar-coding will become more popular in the retail environment and upgrading of handheld devices and EPOS systems to cater for this will be common as the change over will be relatively inexpensive. The warehouse and stores of the retail environment will change also as voice picking systems become more popular, this technology will eliminate paperwork completely yet improve quality and order fulfillment.

Barry Long:
I think we will see more retailers using POD (proof of delivery) systems and greater uptake amongst smaller retailers of this technology as prices continue to become more competitive.

Pat Kelly: RFID use in supply chain management, improving the efficiency of inventory tracking and management.

_____

GS1 DataBar

January 1, 2010 will see the worldwide launch date for a new range of point of sale bar codes called GS1 DataBar (formerly RSS). GS1 DataBar symbols will be able to carry more data in the same amount of space, or the current level of data in less space when compared to existing 13 digit bar codes that we see on virtually every consumer pack in stores today.

It is claimed thatGS1 DataBar symbols will provide many advantages and potential business applications for both retailers and manufacturers. GS1 DataBar symbols will join traditional GS1 bar codes (formerly called "EAN/UPC" bar codes) as an option for point of sale (PoS) applications.

There are a number of reasons for the introduction of GS1 DataBar. These include:

A list of compatible scanners (by manufacturer) can be found here



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top ↑