How Credible Are Barcodes To Assess Genuineness Of Products? Although with technological advancement it is difficult to generate fake barcodes, there have been instances where barcodes have been modified

By Shiva Kabra

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Automated coding systems are becoming more and more prevalent in today's technology, and the barcode has become an essential tool for scanning and tracking product information in the retail world. The barcode, a series of black lines and numbers typically found on all products and on shop shelves, was introduced in 1974 and in no time became one of the most popular forms of data storage and retrieval for products across industries.

When using barcodes to track goods, it can be difficult to know if the code is for a genuine product or not. So, what makes a reliable, possibly trustworthy barcode? Read on.

How does a barcode work?

Barcodes are generated using software and the seller decides the information of each barcode such as name of manufacturer, date of manufacturing, date of expiry, price, quantity, etc. This information is keyed into the software and a unique machine readable barcode is automatically generated. Each number from 0 to 9 is assigned a different set of black and white bars and the barcodes are generated according to the numbers assigned.

Why is a barcode valuable to retailers?

A barcode is a type of machine-readable code that can be used in retail to track inventory and track sales. A barcode is unique to a product, so it can be used to track its movement throughout the supply chain. By knowing what products are in stock and which have been sold, retailers can make more accurate decisions about their inventory and marketing strategies. In addition, scanning a barcode with a computer can help retailers determine which products are being bought and how much money has been spent on those products.

The innovation of barcodes was designed in a way, to communicate with scanners and printers. But due to ever-changing technology innovation, many standards were developed, and the commonly accepted language for barcodes was termed, 'symbologies'. Out of this, there are two types of linear barcode—Universal Product Code (UPC) barcode in the US and European Article Number (EAN) in Europe—and, one type of matrix barcode: QR code.

The UPC barcode consists of bars and spaces to represent, 12 digits of data and, EAN represents 13 digits of data. These digits of data are not randomly numbered, the string of numbers mentioned in the barcode adheres to the global standard which ensures authenticity and prevents falsely duplication of the product. The company obtain GS1 prefix from a GS1 member organisation as these create identification keys for trade items, logistical units, locations, parties, assets, coupons, etc. GS1 is the only official provider of GS1 GTINs and EAN/UPC barcodes globally and these are necessary for most online and traditional retailers including Amazon, eBay, Alibaba, Google, Carrefour, Tesco and Walmart.

How do barcodes help consumers?

The unique digits on a barcode can fetch the product history by assuring the consumer and third-party seller of the genuineness of the product and the brand, which helps to build trust and maintain a reliable pace of selling them to the end consumer.

With the ever-growing smartphone market, it has become easy for most consumers to scan these barcodes or QR codes using a simple application on their smartphone. For example 'Smart Consumers' app by GS1 that empowers consumers to connect digitally with brands. Within seconds all the relevant information, product name, name of the manufacturer, place of the manufacturer, product description, ingredients, date of manufacturing and expiry, net content, etc. This helps consumers check the genuineness of the product but is also a great comparison tool between the same product lines. This app also allows you to register complain about the product.

However, there may be times when barcodes do not relay the required information. These may be due to incompatible barcode scanner, printing on uneven packaging or transparent packaging or damaged or blurred packaging wherein the codes cannot be scanned. At such times consumers have to check the other details such as logos, packaging, form, colour of the product, invoice, receipts, labels, etc., to assess the authenticity of the products.

Are barcodes always reliable?

Generally companies aim to have at least 99 per cent success rate in barcodes as any errors in barcodes can cost the company significantly. GS1 barcodes are scanned over 6 billion times each day, driving commerce around the globe. And even 1 per cent error (approximately 6 million) in scanning is likely to have a huge cost impact on businesses. These would be cost of efficiency, cost of returns due to errors, cost of inaccurate invoicing, inventory tracking, customer dissatisfaction and more. Hence, businesses generally aim to have accurate barcodes.

In addition to barcodes, buyers should also check the packaging, logos, product detail before purchasing to gauge the genuineness of the products.

Although with technological advancement it is difficult to generate fake barcodes, there have been instances where barcodes have been modified to a lower cost or to increase the quantity of products. Retailers need to be vary of such scammers as it can lead to huge losses for retail businesses.

Shiva Kabra

Joint Managing Director, Control Print Ltd

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