There’s no escaping the humble barcode. Since their commercial introduction in 1974, the innocuous vertical black lines have become synonymous with the consumer experience – from the checkout readers’ blip as a product is scanned, to the label on the outside of a newly delivered product.

There’s one reason for the ubiquity of barcodes, and that is traceability. The codes allow businesses to keep track of their products – whether that’s tiny electronic components or enormous pieces of machinery. Businesses of all forms can benefit from barcodes – here are just some of the possibilities.


A security system where doors are fitted with readers that grant access via barcodes is useful for both safety and productivity. Because staff can be issued with cards featuring a person-specific barcode, their movement through a building can be traced. Unauthorised access can also be more easily monitored. Barcode labels can be easily added to existing staff identification cards.

Barcodes became commercially successful when they were used to automate supermarket checkout systems, starting with a 10-pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum in the seventies. Nowadays, most businesses choose to attach a barcode label to their products.

The benefit for the retailer is that they can easily check stocks and order more when supplies are running low. They can also easily read the important information relating to the product, such as its price, expiration date and the date it arrived in the shop.
Loyalty cards

The use of a barcode on the back of a loyalty card effectively turns the cardholder into the equivalent of a product. What they buy, where they buy it and when they buy it are all recorded for analysis in a computer. The information can collectively be used to offer products to the right people at the right time – thereby dramatically increasing sales.

Increasing numbers of retailers are jumping onto the loyalty card band wagon, with corresponding numbers of consumers willing to use them – approximately 85% of UK households have at least one loyalty card, according to the TNS market researcher company.
Delivery notes

Having a barcode on delivery notes allows head office to know the minute a delivery has been successfully made, or an item picked up. It also boosts the efficiency of the delivery driver by reducing the need for constant stock supervision.
Tracking equipment

Whether it’s the laptop of a mobile worker or a piece of plant on hire, the equipment used by businesses usually needs to be tracked. Knowing who has what and where, makes operations run more smoothly and allows any repairs to be carried out quickly and efficiently.

Barcode labels can simplify filing systems and help managers keep track of important documents. Companies such as South East Labels can provide information on how best to barcode business documents.
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History of the barcode

Gallery of creative barcode designs

Wall Street Journal
How to get UPC barcodes for your products

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