Why the world is not done with barcodes at all

In a world that seems to spin at a faster pace every day, there is an almost infinite number of products available to be sold by different companies in different ways — from online to offline stores. With customers demanding more personalized shopping experiences, having the right product at the right time is essential for the survival of retailers. To achieve that, it’s crucial to learn how to make the supply chain processes as efficient as possible, so more products can be sold in a more cost-effective way without compromising customer satisfaction. Every product acquired by a customer is the result of the effort of several people, perhaps even several companies. Put it simply, the product needs to be manufactured and delivered to the client, but was it directly from the producer to the client, or was it sold to a retailer who then sold it to the client? Did the retailer acquire that product before or after the client’s order? If the retailer acquired it before, then the product had to be stored — perhaps in a warehouse? 

If we are talking about a big retailer, then maybe the company owns more than one warehouse, therefore, how to choose where to store the items? How do we know which items are where? How do we track them? If all our products are packed in boxes, how do we know what’s inside each box?

The brief history of barcodes

The simplest way to identify a box which content we can’t see (without having to write a tag with all the features for every single item!) is through a barcode. These conjugations of black and white lines have been making our lives easier since 1948, but it was only in 1969 that the first barcode-reading technology became available in the market. By this time, barcodes were read using a laser machine. However, this technology was still not good enough to be used in retail. IBM solved the problem in 1974, with their UPC system (using laser and optics technology) when a supermarket in Ohio was able to read a barcode of a product for the first time in history. Since then, barcodes were adopted by pretty much every player of the retail sector. But 1D barcodes — as they were called later — are limited to 20 characters and can only code alphanumeric characters, so they needed to evolve to be able to store even more information.

An example of a 1D barcode

2D barcodes came up in 1987. The most common are the Data Matrix barcodes, composed of a square with smaller squares inside and an L-shaped border. These types of barcodes have two main advantages: they can store way more information (between 6 and 3116 numbers or 3 and 2335 alphanumerical characters) and can be printed in really small sizes.

Data Matrix barcode

Lastly, QR codes — short for Quick Response Codes — were invented in Japan, by a company called Denso Wave. As the name indicates, this technology was able to read and track items faster. From 1994 — from the year QR codes were invented, to today, QR codes have become much smaller and can identify the location of an object even if it changes, by integrating a GPS.

QR code

Now that you´ve understood that the world is not done without barcodes at all, we have a challenge for you: to create an app able to read 1D barcode. Specifically, the barcode used by CTT, the company mostly known as the Portuguese postal service, with 75 bars and with 4-State type.

… And do you know which company also uses this type of barcodes? While CTT uses it to identify packages and letters, this company uses barcodes to identify songs and to make it easier for you to share your tunes! No need to share links anymore, simply click on the “three dots” button on the right side of the top of the screen and the bar code will show up. To scan it, click on the camara icon near the search bar and point it over a code. Have you guessed which company are we talking about? No? It’s a pretty famous one. Look at the screen of your phone, we bet it’s one of the apps installed… it’s Spotify!

Can’t spot thinking about the potential of barcodes? We hope so! Read more about CTT challenge (and specially the prizes you can win!) here.

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