The humble barcode has had a huge impact on retail: from tracking and tracing goods across the supply chain, to pricing items in-store and accelerating checkout, retailers rely on barcodes for smooth operations. And whatever shop you visit – from a grocery or a convenience store, to a high-end apparel boutique – the chances are they’ll be using a laser or linear based ‘1D’ scanner to capture codes on your items.
But an alternative scanning technology is available – array imaging (also known as 2D scanning) – that offers new ways to enhance business processes, improve customer service and increase checkout throughput.
OPTIMISING WORKLOWS WITH THE LATEST SCANNING TECHNOLOGY
So why is now a good time for retailers to move to the latest barcode scanning technology? One of the main reasons is the improvement to customer service:
- Better information: The latest 2D barcodes can incorporate more data. And by including them on products (that assistants can scan, or customers can scan using their phone) retailers and FMCG brands can not only show price, but share information like ingredients, sustainability, source, nutrition data and more. The need for more transparency is becoming increasingly important – 72 per cent of shoppers read nutrition data where it’s available. In addition, array imagers are more effective at dealing with damaged codes.
- Damaged codes: Printed barcodes can be easily damaged in transit – by being torn or rubbed, by condensation, heat and direct sunlight. The way traditional ‘1D’ scanners work, this can be a problem. Laser scanners shine a bright light on the code that is either absorbed by the black lines or bounced back (the white spaces) to decipher the pattern and its embedded data. While it’s a quick and reliable way to scan codes, any damaged or faint codes don’t absorb or reflect the light, which can cause a false read. Likewise, 1D scanners need to be lined up perpendicularly to the full length of the code and, if this doesn’t happen, the data’s likely to be misread. You’ll have seen this happen at checkouts where assistants often need to enter data manually – much to the frustration of shoppers.
Array imagers, which can scan any barcode (1D, 2D and GS1, including high-density barcodes), overcome these issues. And, as they effectively take a picture of a code, rather than reading reflected light, they can capture data from any angle. What’s more, as they use powerful decoding software, they’re smart enough to still extract information from damaged or faint codes as long as the data can be read somewhere in the code. The capabilities of array imaging scanning technology translate to some powerful applications and benefits. These include:
- Smoother checkouts: With fewer failed reads, checkout queues move faster when imaging scanners are used.
- Greater productivity: Checkout staff don’t need to take time to scan in a straight line – they can simply point the scanner in the approximate direction of the code. This is especially useful – and convenient – where your checkout team may be scanning devices directly from shoppers’ carts.
- Enhanced loyalty schemes: While laser 1D scanners cannot capture codes from smartphone screens, array imagers can. And with 90% of consumers using smartphones in-store, and 57% saying they’re happy to receive real-time messages in-store, your 2D scanners can support paperless loyalty schemes. Since most loyalty schemes and vouchers use the 2D QR code, which a 1D scanner can’t read, you’ll be able to read that mobile phone voucher your customer brings to the store.
- Simple proof of ID: Since imagers are essentially cameras, you can use them for more applications – e.g. documenting damaged goods or capturing a customer’s signature.
- Easier customer data capture: Images can also capture data from the shiny surface of documents like driving licences. This allows you to easily scan and collect address and ID data to create applications for credit or loyalty accounts.
SPEND A LITTLE MORE TO DO A LOT MORE
The time was when the difference in cost between laser and linear 1D scanners and array imaging 2D scanners was significant. But, these days, imaging devices are much more cost-effective. So much so that the greater speed, accuracy and efficiency they support – which ultimately improves the in-store experience – means they are worth the investment. It’s a fact that’s supported by the data – by 2018, 60% of all the money spent on handheld scanners will be used on 2D imagers.
Find out more about Zebra's 2D imaging scanners here.
 Forbes, July 20 2016
 VDC Research, The Global Market for Handheld Scanners (Part of the Strategic Insights 2014 Barcode Solutions Research Program)