MORE TESTS COMING FOR RSS BAR CODES

DAYTON, Ohio -- Dorothy Lane Market here, which has pioneered the use of reduced space symbology (RSS) bar codes for meats in its two original stores since last May, is poised to adopt the codes in its new third store, which opened in March, as other companies prepare to test the technology.The RSS bar codes, developed by the Uniform Code Council, Lawrenceville, N.J., are being applied specifically

DAYTON, Ohio -- Dorothy Lane Market here, which has pioneered the use of reduced space symbology (RSS) bar codes for meats in its two original stores since last May, is poised to adopt the codes in its new third store, which opened in March, as other companies prepare to test the technology.

The RSS bar codes, developed by the Uniform Code Council, Lawrenceville, N.J., are being applied specifically to perishable products, though they are being considered for other categories like HBC and greeting cards, where their smaller size is helpful.

Dorothy Lane, the first grocery company to use the codes, has applied them strictly to meat, but a large Canadian retailer is planning to apply the codes to produce by the end of this month, according to Greg Rowe, the UCC's manager of industry initiatives. The company is "looking to its produce suppliers to have the RSS codes on price-lookup stickers by the end of May, and then to start scanning them," he said, declining to name the grocer.

In addition, a "Northwest grocery chain" is looking at testing the codes, according to Steve Arens, senior director of business development for UCC.

Holding more information than traditional Universal Product Code, the RSS codes offer grocers the opportunity to scan produce for the first time, while cutting front-end shrink, reducing cashier-training costs and speeding checkout throughput, said industry experts. But the relative newness of the codes has slowed any movement to adopt them industrywide.

Jack Gridley, meat and seafood director for Dorothy Lane, who believes the RSS codes will have a significant impact on the bottom line as the food industry continues to discover their benefits, expects to have them in place at all three of the grocer's stores by mid-June.

So far, Dorothy Lane is limiting the application to meat products. "We stopped using RSS for produce after a month because all of the stickers had to be custom-made, and hand-applied to all the fruits and vegetables," said Gridley. "The manufacturers, growers and packers have not bought into RSS yet, so we had to apply the stickers ourselves. Needless to say, it was very time-consuming."

The grocer also had run into some software problems earlier this year and had to stop using the codes for meat temporarily, said Gridley. "The POS [point-of-sale] software was able to scan the bar code, but as far as being able to transfer the additional digits of the UPC in a multiple-store environment, the software had to be rewritten or some sort of work-around had to be made."

A successful adjustment was made by Dorothy Lane's POS software provider, Bass, Miamisburg, Ohio (a subsidiary of Retalix). While there are still a few minor bugs to be fixed, the RSS capacity will be incorporated into the new release of Bass' software, Gridley said.

"Part of the problem is that this whole test was just a proof of concept," said Gridley. "When the industry takes hold of this and some of the software manufacturers rewrite their software to accommodate RSS, that's when you're going to see the huge benefits come out. It's just a matter of people feeling comfortable with it and making the investments in the technology to upgrade. It's like, 'Which comes first? The chicken or the egg?"'

Still, the promise of the RSS technology appears great. RSS bar codes for meat and produce would save approximately $46,529 per store annually after technology upgrades, according to a study by the Perishables Group, Carpentersville, Ill. Participants in the study included Dorothy Lane and two Top 10 grocery chains.

Using this estimate, the largest grocery chains, like Cincinnati-based Kroger, which operates about 3,600 stores and Albertson's, Boise, Idaho, which operates about 2,500 stores, could witness an annual savings well in excess of $100 million.

"I remember how the UPC truly transformed our industry in the 1970s," said Norman Mayne, chief executive officer of Dorothy Lane after the first month of testing, "and I am confident RSS will bring the same type of innovation and convenience to the supermarket industry. The RSS bar codes may be small, but they will mean big benefits to supermarket operators and their customers."

In addition to being smaller than current UPCs, allowing them to be affixed to loose fruits, vegetables and other small items, the seven RSS bar codes have a 14-digit data structure, whereas current UPCs are 12-digit. The extra digits allow considerably more information to be encoded, especially for produce, which has lacked any bar-coding. For instance, the RSS-14-stacked omnidirectional bar code for loose produce identifies the supplier and the case size.

"Today when a cashier hand-enters the four-digit, price-lookup code on an orange at the checkout, there's no brand-specific information," said Rowe. "They just know that it's a generic orange. With the RSS on there, you can scan the orange, get complete product identity and take human error out of the cashier."

RSS reduces front-end pricing shrink by $11,274 per store annually, according to the Perishables Group study.

The RSS expanded, stacked symbology for meat allows encoding of the supplier's ID and the weight of the meat into the bar code. "Now retailers will be able to track how much meat was produced in the back room and how much went through the front end," said Rowe. "So now they can capture inventory shrink.

"It also reduces training costs because new cashiers don't have to memorize PLU numbers," said Rowe. "And in those stores that have self-checkout, consumers can now scan the product, vs. having to go into the screen and toggle through to identify a fruit or vegetable. So it speeds up transactions."

The RSS-14 for pharmaceuticals contains an expiration date and batch number, allowing retailers to more effectively rotate stock and quickly contact affected customers in the event of a drug recall.

"Currently, 90% of prescriptions drugs are bar-coded," said John Roberts, the UCC's director of health care. "With RSS, you'd pretty much get them all, down to individual blister packs."