For the second time in the past five years, food retailers are facing a “Sunrise Date” — the industry euphemism for deadline — for making changes in their POS systems.
Five years ago, in advance of the Jan. 1, 2005 Sunrise Date, North American retailers were in the process of adjusting their front-end systems to scan the EAN bar codes used on product packaging in the rest of the world; those bar codes contain 13 digits, one more than the UPC bar codes common to North America. The 2005 initiative helped smooth the flow of imported products in an increasingly global economy.
This year, U.S. retailers are facing a more challenging Sunrise Date, set for Jan. 1, 2010. On that day, their POS systems will be expected to scan and process an entirely new bar code, known as the GS1 DataBar, which is smaller, yet contains more data than the UPC. Originally called the Reduced Space Symbology (RSS) code, the DataBar is entering the mainstream some 10 years after it was first proposed.
While the DataBar is forcing retailers to invest time and money in equipment upgrades, it is expected to offer a number of advantages. In its initial application on loose produce, the DataBar promises more accurate and productive scanning (especially of organics), yielding better sales, inventory and shrink data. On coupons, now expected to follow produce as an application of the DataBar, it is expected to reduce fraud and offer greater validation capabilities.
Scanning the DataBar on coupons “will give redemption centers more faith that the [discounted] product was actually bought, so getting our money returned should be smoother,” said Pat Arnold, IT director for Dorothy Lane Market, Dayton, Ohio.
In its most basic form (the omnidirectional and stacked omnidirectional version), the DataBar contains 14 digits, one more than the EAN code. The stacked omnidirectional DataBar, which is half the width of a UPC code, is able to fit on a small produce sticker that also holds a PLU (price look-up) number. Retailers will be expected to scan produce DataBars on Jan. 1, but they will still have the option to key-enter PLU codes per the conventional practice.
DataBars are already becoming an increasingly common sight on loose produce like apples, oranges, pears and tomatoes (see box at right). In a recent survey of produce items at a Connecticut Stop & Shop conducted by SN, nine out of 27 stickered loose produce items sported the DataBar. Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee, Wash., applies DataBars on all apples, pears and soft fruit, both conventional and organic, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director. “We are also putting a DataBar on our random weight cherry bags out of Washington this season.”
Several retailers have taken the lead in testing and deploying POS systems that scan and process produce DataBars, including Wal-Mart Stores and Loblaw. Fifty out of 51 retailers surveyed late last year by the Produce Marketing Association said they already could accept the DataBar on produce or were beginning an implementation, said Julia Stewart, spokesperson for PMA. Pepperl puts the percentage of produce-DataBar-ready retailers at 60%, with the rest “moving fast.”
To facilitate the incorporation of DataBars in retailers' pricing databases, the Produce Electronic Identification Board is working on a utility that would allow a simple correlation between PLU numbers and 14-digit DataBar GTINs (global trade identification numbers), said Stewart.
Stewart pointed out that the DataBar on produce is not related to the new bar codes for produce cases developed by the Produce Traceability Initiative, which includes the GTIN, lot number and packing/harvest date.
A more complex type of DataBar, the expanded stacked version, which carries up to 74 numeric or 41 alphanumeric data characters, has been sharing space on many manufacturer coupons along with the traditional UPC-A code for a number of months. Both contain the same information during the transition period, but the coupon DataBar will eventually include far more data, including expiration date, any coupon value and a longer manufacturer prefix, as well as complex promotional scenarios such as buy-one-get-one-free.
Jan. 1, 2010 was originally designated as the day manufacturers could start removing the UPC-A code from coupons, leaving the DataBar as the sole bar code. However, based on a preliminary survey conducted in March suggesting retailers may not be sufficiently prepared to process the coupon DataBar, there is now the possibility that manufacturers will be advised to delay making that move.
The body responsible for recommending when manufacturers should proceed with the DataBar is the Joint Industry Coupon Committee (JICC), which is sponsored by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Food Marketing Institute and GS1 US. The JICC plans to make an announcement by early July on whether Jan.1 will remain as the date when coupons can start featuring the DataBar alone, or whether there will be a delay, according to Alan Williams, vice president, applications development, Ahold Information Services, Landover, Md., and co-chair of the JICC.
That decision will be based on a new survey of retailer readiness to scan the coupon DataBar, as well as on other determinations of retailer readiness, said Williams. Retailers who have not previously responded are invited to respond anonymously to the survey at www.zoomerang.com/Survey/?p=WEB228XN2A2YYT .
Williams acknowledged that he commented publicly at an Association of Coupon Professionals conference earlier this year that it is “highly unlikely” that the Jan.1 date for removing UPC-A codes from coupons “would hold.”
In a DataBar-only scenario, retailers who can't process it would require their cashiers to perform visual validation of the coupon's purchase requirements and then key in the amount manually, slowing down checkout lanes. The “removal of UPC-A codes from coupons will be extremely disruptive to retailers if they are not ready to scan and process the DataBar,” noted Williams. “There needs to be a high degree of readiness across the industry before that trigger is pulled.”
Somewhere between 70% and 80% of CPG manufacturers currently display both UPC-A and DataBar codes on their coupons, according to Steve Arens, director of industry development for GS1 US, citing an analysis by a coupon clearinghouse.
Some retailers have indicated that their readiness for scanning the coupon DataBar has been affected by delays in receiving updated POS software from their technology providers.
In a check of major POS software providers, SN found varying degrees of DataBar compliance. NCR's Advanced Checkout Solution (ACS) POS software (versions 6.0, 6.1 and 6.2) supports the produce DataBar, but is still being updated to handle the coupon DataBar, with a release expected next month. StoreNext and Retalix POS software support the DataBar (coupon and produce). Fujitsu's GlobalStore software does not, but is on “the roadmap” to do so by the end of this year, said Neil McGlone, a Fujitsu spokesman. IBM expects to offer full support of the DataBar in the next release of its ACE POS software in early summer.
The expanded stacked DataBar can also be used on random-weight meat, poultry and pork packages. However, said Arens, retailers are not expected to be able to scan and process the DataBar for meat, poultry and pork by Jan. 1. He pointed to Jan. 1, 2014 as the deadline for that capability. He also expects 2014 to be the year when some product manufacturers using the UPC bar code will transition to the DataBar.
The 2005 Sunrise Date, which asked retailers to be able to scan 13-digit EAN bar codes, in effect gave retailers a head start for 2010. That is because scanners and POS software capable of scanning and processing 13 digit codes are also capable of scanning and processing 14 digit codes that start with a zero, as the produce DataBar codes do.
But to ensure that their scanners are DataBar ready, retailers need to perform a manual audit, testing a sample DataBar, said John Wilson, senior product manager for NCR's bi-optic scanners.
Some retailers are now adjusting their price look-up files to accommodate the 14-digit GTINs associated with produce DataBars. They are also adjusting their T (transaction)-logs to handle all DataBar data.
In addition, noted Williams, applications that “consume” T-log data, such as loss prevention and labor scheduling software, need to be able to recognize the new DataBar information.
Dorothy Lane Market, a three-store retailer, was able to update its NCR 7875 scanner simply by adding a chip, noted Arnold, the retailer's IT director. Its newer scanner, the NCR 7878, used in heavier volume lanes, is DataBar ready. Arnold said Dorothy Lane's NCR ACS POS software will be updated in September to support the coupon DataBar, but he expects to be ready for Jan. 1.
Arnold said his biggest challenge will be to customize the updated POS software to accommodate Dorothy Lane's sophisticated loyalty program.
Some retailers contacted by SN don't expect to be ready for the DataBar, especially the coupon DataBar, on Jan. 1. Haggen, Bellingham, Wash., which operates 15 Haggen stores and 17 Top stores, expects to finalize its plans in the third quarter, but won't be DataBar-ready by Jan. 1, said Harrison Lewis, chief information officer.
Part of the delay, Lewis noted, is that the chain's POS software, Fujitsu ISS45, is not fully DataBar-compliant yet. Lewis is also assessing Haggen's mix of scanner/scale systems to determine which to upgrade and which to replace. He plans to make T-log changes that will be added to his data warehouse for analysis, from which he expects to find some of the DataBar's “real value.”
Lewis does not believe the coupon DataBar and the DataBar on common produce items represent “enough of a business case to justify this capital expense.” He would prefer to see a commitment from manufacturers to use data like expiration dates and lot numbers in such products as meat, milk or yogurt, or granular product data in items like greeting cards and books. In produce, he looks for the DataBar to be used with exotic items as well as ordinary ones. “Apples and bananas are not where we make mistakes,” he said. But he expects more robust DataBar applications to eventually come.
DATABAR ON PRODUCE
Loose produce bearing stickers with the GS1 DataBar, at Stop & Shop, Danbury, Conn., May 24, 2009:
- Prime Time Red Pepper
- Top Line On-the-Vine Tomato
- USA Pear
- Fuji Apple
- J.P Sullivan MacIntosh Apple
- Granny Smith Apple
- Braeburn Apple
- Jazz Apple
- Sun Pacific Navel Orange