Supply-chain standards organization GS1 US has released a Barcode Capabilities Test Kit to help retailers gauge their readiness to shift from linear Universal Product Codes (UPCs) to data-rich 2D barcodes on product packaging by 2027.
Ewing, N.J.-based GS1 US said the Barcode Capabilities Test Kit evaluates a retailer’s ability to scan and process 2D barcodes at point of sale (POS) as well as to support stocking and receiving functions in warehouses and distribution centers. The program is part of a migration plan for phasing out UPCs and implementing 2D barcodes, dubbed “Sunrise 2027 — A New Dimension in Barcodes,” that will steer brands through labeling transitions and help ensure the reliability of 2D barcode scanning.
Although the UPC barcode has provided price lookup functionality for decades, the standard isn’t up to the task in the digital age, with rising demand for more product information transparency, traceability and authentication, according to GS1 US.
Two-dimensional (2D) barcodes can carry much more information while providing a single, standardized way to meet both supply chain needs and increasing consumer requirements. For example, GS1 US said, information from 2D barcodes can improve inventory management, enhance recall readiness, promote sustainability and ethical sourcing, bolster product authentication and foster brand trust.
“Global retailers, brands and solution providers have been moving toward the use of 2D barcodes to provide consumers with detailed product information and transparency,” Carrie Wilke, senior vice president, standards and technology for GS1 US, said in a statement. “However, there are many other supply chain benefits,” she explained, noting that “a single 2D barcode conveys limitless information in a machine-readable format.”
One-dimensional barcodes, such as EAN/UPC, can only accommodate a product identifier known as the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN). On the other hand, 2D barcodes can handle additional data, such as expiration date, batch/lot number, serial number and more. Some 2D barcodes, like QR Code using GS1 Digital Link, can carry more data while connecting consumers and other users to online resources, content and experiences, GS1 US noted. In addition, 2D barcodes are likely to be smaller than their 1D counterparts and include features like built-in error correction that boost their reliability.
The GS1 Digital Link standard will give brands the ability to web-enable barcodes, connecting physical products to the web while providing consumers with instantly updated and brand-authorized content online via a single smartphone scan, according to GS1 US.
“While the transition is a multi-step process, GS1 US will be collaborating with industry to align on capabilities for success,” Wilke added.
GS1 US said it recently conducted a test kit pilot with three national retailers and their solution providers to determine industry readiness. The pilot found that POS systems must be transformed to process 2D barcodes, interpret new data and maintain efficient checkout. Though retailers in the test group had image scanners installed, testing showed numerous readiness challenges in successfully scanning, processing and storing data, . indicating that hardware and software infrastructure across all POS formats must evolve, the standards organization noted.
“While the transition to 2D barcodes is still in its infancy, we understand that benefits around sustainability, traceability, supply chain visibility and meeting the needs of consumers are creating a great deal of interest across industry,” commented Marcia Mendez, senior program manager at Walmart. “Ultimately, suppliers will likely drive this evolution as they increasingly label their products with 2D barcodes. However, retailers will need to ensure that not only can they scan 2D barcodes, but also read and ingest the data, which we’ve learned are two very different capabilities during the pilot project.”
GS1 US added that it will continue to work with retail and other industries to produce a fully interoperable, global solution, including efforts to create requirements, conduct testing, analyze results and provide recommendations to optimize 2D barcode placement, read priority and scanning performance in dual (UPC + 2D) and single (2D) marking scenarios. Testing will be done with the University of Memphis AIDC Lab.
The 2D in Retail Working Group will provide a standardized industry agreement on how 2D barcodes will function in open, global supply chains along with today’s 1D barcodes (EAN/UPC and GS1 DataBar). Any company using GS1 standards to barcode products and any company that scans barcodes on products can join the 2D in Retail Working Group, GS1 US said.
“2D barcodes on products will be an important new gateway to digital experiences,” stated Kelly Schlafman, director of intelligent packaging at consumer products giant Procter & Gamble. “We are living in the age of the informed consumer. The explosion of digital access to content is a key element to remain competitive.”