COUPON SCAN CODE EXTENSION NEARS OK

ATLANTA -- The GMA-FMI Joint Industry Coupon Committee is expected to approve an extended version of the UCC/ EAN-128 code for coupon scanning when it meets here Feb. 16."We've been working long and hard on an extended code," said David Sefcik, manager of corporate scanning at Giant Food, Landover, Md. "We think we're there when it comes to a code that can be used for electronic coupon clearing."Final

ATLANTA -- The GMA-FMI Joint Industry Coupon Committee is expected to approve an extended version of the UCC/ EAN-128 code for coupon scanning when it meets here Feb. 16.

"We've been working long and hard on an extended code," said David Sefcik, manager of corporate scanning at Giant Food, Landover, Md. "We think we're there when it comes to a code that can be used for electronic coupon clearing."

Final approval of the extended code rests with the Uniform Code Council. The Dayton, Ohio-based nonprofit group has worked closely with both supermarkets and manufacturers on the code and is expected to rubber stamp the proposal shortly after the February meeting.

While current codes generally identify only the discount and sometimes the product and manufacturer, an extended code could convey information about where the coupons were dropped, their expiration date, offer code and household code.

"One-half of the stores currently scanning coupons are only scanning the coupon's value," said Pat Kiernan, senior vice president of industry relations and productivity at the Washington-based Grocery Manufacturers' Association. "They can't even tell you if it's a Lever Bros. or a P&G product."

Kiernan said the adoption of a standardized, extended version of UCC/EAN-128 could precipitate a spate of changes that would "cut coupon processing costs in half" over the next several years.

The added information would make the code the foundation of electronic coupon clearing.

"Manufacturers need more information

than the scanned barcode holds," Sefcik explained. "We are trying to incorporate that information into a barcode suffix."

Currently, much of that information is printed in non-scannable codes on the coupon. Consequently, that information must be manually keyed in by a coupon processor or optically scanned.

Even if the new code becomes widely used, coupons would still likely be forwarded to coupon processors for a count, at least for the foreseeable future. No extra information would have to be entered, however, and the coupons could be destroyed once counted.

Some vendors, anxious for a code that could give them more information, have already added proprietary codes of their own to coupons. Retailers, however, must have special software to decipher those codes -- a situation that becomes inordinately complex with multiple vendors.

"The problem is that there is no standard," Sefcik said. "The suffixes mean different things to different people."

Sefcik said the extended code would include "identifiers" that would tell the computer that the information to follow is an expiration date or an offer code, for instance. The identifiers could even be strung together, instructing the computer that the pertinent information will follow in a specific sequence.

Industry sources said the extended code is winning approval from manufacturers since it takes up only slightly more surface area on a coupon than current codes. The current code takes up about 1 inch by 1.5 inches.

"At most, the new code would double that size," Sefcik said.

Manufacturers can keep the code as short as they like by leaving out information they don't deem essential. Some, for instance, may choose to omit the expiration date. Manufacturers had reservations about extended codes for fear the esthetic and promotional message of the coupon would be impaired.