Biz Tips: Why Are 2D Barcode Scanners Taking Over

Biz Tips: Why Are 2D Barcode Scanners Taking Over

Biz Tip:

Why Are 2D Barcode Scanners Taking Over

We are entering the age of the 2D barcode.

There was a time when 2D barcodes were something of a laughingstock—a piece of overhyped technology, like Google Goggles or New Coke.

But unlike New Coke, and more like Google Goggles, perhaps 2D barcodes were just ahead of their time. According to a market study by Technavio, the global barcode scanner market is projected to grow to $6.3 billion by 2021, and 2D barcode technology is driving that increased rate of adoption.

What makes the 2D barcode, and the scanners that read them, such an attractive option to businesses from retail to healthcare? First, you need to understand what makes 2D barcodes special, and then you’ll understand better some of the unique advantages they bring.

A Breakdown of 2D Barcodes

2D barcodes are the next generation of barcode. 1D barcodes, also known as traditional or linear barcodes, are the classic lines and spaces you see on retail items in super markets, on warehouse shelves, and on some airline tickets. They typically hold up to 85 characters and for years, they got the job done.

But just like so much of the world, technology is advancing and barcodes are becoming more complex and more versatile. The 2D barcode, which comes in several formats, is a prime example of that.

Types of 2D Barcodes

QR codes are a machine-readable code made up of black and white squares, which usually store things like URLs, photos, and other information. They are the most common type of 2D code, since they can be read by smartphones and mobile computers as well as barcode scanners.

Data Matrix codes have a square module perimeter pattern that can encode GS1 data, letters, numbers, text, and actual data bytes. These are often used in manufacturing and warehousing because even when damaged, they can withstand and maintain data.

PDF417 codes look a bit more like traditional barcodes, but they have a high-density symbology that allows for the encoding of text, numbers, files, and actual data bytes.

So 2D barcodes are more complex and packed with data than 1D codes — is that worth upgrading all of your existing barcode technology and framework? In a word, yes. In fact, for many businesses, that time has already come. Here’s why:

Improved Inventory and Asset Management

The main reason that the increased capability to store information is so important is that for many businesses, inventory and asset management are becoming more complex than ever, thanks to global supply chains, and they need a technology that can keep up.

Inventory management is often listed as a top challenge for many businesses, especially retailers. The amount of inventory lost to simple human error when doing manual counts, or due to theft, or due to mistakes when calculating for a re-order, is staggering.

That’s why the fact that 43 percent of small businesses don’t track their inventory or use a manual process to do, according to the Wasp Barcode State of Small Business Report, is so stunning. Given how often companies struggle to accurately track their inventory from the warehouse to the customer’s doorstep, you’d think this would be a given in this day and age.

Same goes for fixed asset management, which only 45 percent of small businesses claim to do at all or with automated software. Fixed assets are the long-term pieces of property you invest in to help turn a profit. The fact that some companies couldn’t tell you when their laptops or forklifts need to be disposed is crazy given the current data-crazy business climate.

2D barcodes, which can hold information both vertically and horizontally, can capture and store even more data than their predecessors, which will help businesses that do adopt tracking systems to be even more efficient with their stocking, restocking, and shipping. Tracking systems help companies to:

  • Identify trends, such as ebbs and flows in demand, that will help cut the carrying cost of inventory by minimizing unnecessary re-orders and reducing needed shelf space.
  • Track packages from the time an order is made to the time it’s fulfilled, and back again if need be.
  • Maintain accountability in the workplace, so assets aren’t checked out, taken home, or used excessively without digital records giving management oversight.
  • Increase efficiency by creating shorter routes through warehouses and plants, lessening the wear and tear on humans and machines alike.

Falling Price Points

It doesn’t matter how good a piece of technology is: If it’s not reasonably priced, people won’t buy it, at least not en masse.

For many businesses, 2D barcode scanners were once like a new iPhone — too expensive to invest in right away. But now 2D scanners have come down in price and are comparable to older 1D scanners.

Even better, 2D scanners often have backwards compatibility, meaning you can invest in a quality 2D scanner and continue scanning your 1D barcodes with ease — plus you’ll be capable of slowly leveling up your operations until everything is 2D.

Improvements For Niche Scanners

There isn’t just one type of barcode scanner, or even one type of 2D barcode scanner. The increasing variety of different types of scanners are giving businesses that otherwise might not have thought to adopt this technology to give it a shot.

One major breakdown in barcode scanners is rugged vs. non-rugged scanners. According to Technavio, the non-rugged segment in the market is what drove such explicit growth in 2016, since retail stores could use smartphones to scan items.

But rugged scanners are becoming more usable, more versatile (thanks to Bluetooth and other wireless technology), and dare we say sleeker than in years past, while maintaining their durability. These are especially useful in harsher conditions like inside warehouses and in the outdoors.

For example, drilling down a bit further, both industrial barcode scanners and wearable scanners—say, smartwatches—have an expected CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of more than 6 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

Some 2D barcode scanners come with features that are designed to make the experience of using them more pleasant. Some come equipped with softer illumination, in dark reds or subtle whites. Others are more ergonomic and easier to hold. Others yet can scan from awkward angles, or scan multiple barcodes at once.

The needs of your business, including how you want to use 2D barcodes—are you attaching them to a tiny vial, or a large package?—will dictate the kind of scanner you need. But the bottom line is that no matter what your business, you’ll likely need some kind of scanner at some point along your business workflow in the near future.

When people think of barcodes, they don’t often think about the revolutionary effect they’ve had on business, particularly as it relates to e-commerce. Heavy hitters like Amazon and Wal-Mart use them; ditto tiny Etsy businesses. Retailers and manufacturers use them, as do those in healthcare and entertainment and travel.

This increased adoption of 2D barcodes is just the natural evolution of data tracking and analyzing. If you still haven’t looked into 2D barcodes and their scanners, it’s time to investigate and see what ways you could be saving money, or making more of it, with their help.

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