Barcode Verification and Omni-Channel Shopping

It is no secret that a lot of retail sales are moving toward online sites. It seems like we will eventually strike some balance between sales thru physical stores and sales thru their online counterparts.  Omni-channel shopping is one of the variants where a customer will order a product online from a retailer and pick it up at their local store from that stores inventory.  This offers shoppers the convenience of online shopping and the added convenience of almost instant access to the product they want.

Although there has been an increasing call from retailers for vendors to improve their compliance with barcode standards, the move toward Omni-channel shopping really ups the ante. The reason is very simple.  The retailers store inventory has to be near perfect to allow them to confidently offer it for sale online.  Just imagine how a customer would feel if they purchased an item online, went to the store to pick it up and found that they did not have it.  The retailer would most likely lose the sale and the customer.

So then, what does it take to be successful?  At least one of the ‘must do’ items is to tighten up your companies use of barcodes for transactional information.  If you are finding that:

  • Some barcodes cannot be scanned and manual key entry is required
  • Some barcodes are difficult to scan and it takes a few seconds of trying before you get it
  • Some barcodes contain the wrong information

Then you most likely have a vendor compliance problem which will impede your Omni-channel execution.

What to do? Barcode verification is the key. It is a predictive analytic tool that will grade a barcodes ability to be scanned.  This means that barcode problems are not inevitable. They can be prevented.

It turns out that almost 90% of ‘scanning’ problems are actually printing problems.  If you attack the real problem (printing poor quality barcodes) by requiring vendors to use barcode verification, you will resolve the problem.  This is best done in a proactive approach.  Some of the elements could include:

  • Write your purchase contracts to include a statement requiring ‘compliance with industry standards’ and point to the appropriate document (retail is GS1). Quality is now mandatory. Most standards require a Grade C or better. This quality level will provide barcodes that can easily be scanned on automated conveyor systems and by even inexpensive hand held scanners. They will read in a ‘snap’, virtually instantaneously.
  • When a new vendor is being set up, ask for a representative label sample. Verify the barcode on that sample is in compliance both for quality and content.  The new vendor should be easily able to produce a Grade A or B label for this initial sample. Keep that verification record on file for future reference. It may help when an issue arises.
  • Verify the ‘problem’ barcodes that you are already aware of. These are the very worst of the group and probably represent just the tip of the iceberg but they have to be taken care of.  You will find that these barcodes do not follow the standards and could be in the Grade F area.
  • Set up a reoccurring inspection where a random sampling of barcodes is verified, even if they have not been causing any apparent problems. You will most likely find that many are in the F or D range. There may not be any reported problems in this group but you are not getting the quality specified to keep your systems operating efficiently. Scanners on conveyors will not be able to read the low grade codes on the first pass which may mean they have to be handled manually. Cashiers and warehouse pickers using hand held scanners may take a few extra seconds to find the right distance and angle to read a barcode, if it reads at all.  These are real costs!  Let all your vendors know that you are checking and remind them of your need for quality …. And their responsibility.

ANSI Grade (ISO)


A (3.5 or better) This should scan on the first pass almost instantaneously.
B (2.5 – 3.5) Will most likely read after 1 or 2 scans
C (1.5 – 2.5) The minimum quality usually specified – may take a few scans to get a read
D (0.5 – 1.5) Because of low contrast, ITF-14 bar codes printed on to fiberboard are allowed a D Grade
F (0 – .5) Fail – do not use


Even if you are not involved with Omni-channel shopping, it is always good to be above the fray. There are enough challenges in retail without adding ‘bad data’.  That one can be fatal.