By Kaitlin Friedmann, Marketing Director, Small Business Growth, GS1 US
Lately, there has been an increased demand from consumers to know more about the products they buy, and it’s creating demand that retail entrepreneurs are working hard to meet. Customers want detailed information, such as product origin stories, certificates to back up sustainability claims, and more, and many times it cannot all fit on the packaging. Plus, information can change throughout the product life cycle, and it needs to be communicated to the end customer, such as recalls, updates, and disposal recommendations.
Transition from UPC Barcodes to Two-Dimensional Barcodes (QR Codes)
The retail industry is on the verge of a major change in packaging to respond to this increased demand for more information. Brands and retailers are beginning to transition from UPC barcodes, a 50-year-old technology, to more data-rich, robust two-dimensional barcodes (i.e. a QR code).
QR codes are already on packages right now, but GS1 is advocating for the uniform use of one specialized code that would both “go beep” at checkout and provide access to the product information that consumers want. The GS1 Digital Link standard is what helps barcodes and other data carriers become web links—connecting a product’s unique identity to online sources of real-time information that brands control.
Brands can unlock the possibility of more meaningful digital experiences originating from the product package when they switch to two-dimensional barcodes. The UPC has created efficiency at the checkout for years by enabling price lookup on a can of soup, for example. But it is limited to price look-up and product identification and lacking in its ability to provide rich amounts of data.
Benefits of Using QR Codes / 2D Barcodes
Here’s an overview of the main benefits this shift would provide to companies, both large and small:
- More opportunities to showcase how-to videos, stories about the product’s founder, coupons, detailed information about product origins and ingredients, and more.
- More room on product packaging to express your brand colors and identity.
- Supply chain efficiencies such as better recall management and inventory management. The 2D barcode holds more information helping to boost back-end B2B operations.
QR Codes / 2D Barcodes
Adoption of QR Codes / 2D Barcodes
The adoption of 2D barcodes is already starting to gain momentum within industry. Athletic apparel brand, Puma, for example, is seeing the opportunity to become a first mover and innovate to better respond to their consumer base.
Lauren Antenucci, manager of loss prevention at Puma, explained at GS1 Connect 2023, the annual conference hosted by GS1 US, how the company’s flagship store in New York City no longer has any use for traditional UPC barcodes.
“We have actually eliminated UPC barcodes from any processes in our stores. So while we have a UPC on our tags as a requirement for our wholesale consumer right now, we don’t actually use it for anything,” she explained.
Antenucci also described the benefit of having more user data to understand how shoppers interact with items in the store, down to the days and the times they were interacting with the codes.
“We could get increased data from these scans and really drive our business decisions based on what the consumer was interacting with,” she said.
The 2D barcode movement is not just an opportunity for big companies. Small, independent brands are enthusiastic about the emerging benefits of the migration from the UPC to the 2D barcode. Many founders describe the moment of getting their UPCs as a realization that their products look official and boost their success with retailers and marketplaces. Today’s founders can also focus on the opportunities that come with 2D, recognizing that it is an innovative way to engage target communities and gain more as a shopper.
For more information about 2D barcodes, including podcasts and guidance on adoption, please visit https://www.gs1us.org/lp/2d-barcode-innovation.