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Elevate customer shopping experiences using 2D barcode and PIM

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Elevate customer shopping experiences using 2D barcode and PIM

In the retail world, barcodes have been a silent but essential force for over half a century. We've all encountered those familiar 1D barcodes — neat rows of vertical lines on product labels. They streamline the checkout process, automate price lookup, and make our shopping experiences more convenient. But as technology advances and consumer demands evolve, these traditional barcodes are reaching their limits and are increasingly being replaced by more comprehensive 2D barcodes. Customers now want more than just a price tag; they crave comprehensive product information. In fact, 85% say product information and pictures are important to them when deciding which brand or retailer to buy from.

This is where 2D barcodes play out their advantages. Unlike their linear predecessors, 2D barcodes can provide a wealth of data that gives consumers a deeper understanding of a product's story. According to Brand Vinson, the product marketing manager of Wasp Barcode Technologies, "The biggest breakthrough in barcode technology has been the invention of 2D barcodes and camera-based 2D image readers." Managing them in Product Information Management (PIM) systems, connected with all the up-to-date information in one single repository, allows 2D barcodes to carry more relevant data in real-time.

Let's delve into how the synergy of 2D barcodes and PIM is enriching the shopping experience and empowering businesses to meet evolving customer expectations.

Customers are expecting more information than ever

We are living in the era of big data, where consumers' appetite for information about the products they buy has increased significantly. They seek details ranging from a product's origins to its optimal usage and recycling guidelines. Meanwhile, businesses are grappling with a double challenge: staying compliant with evolving regulations and managing the massive influx of data originating from diverse sources and in various formats. That explains why every year, poor data quality costs organizations an average of $12.9 million. And why 40% of consumers have returned an online purchase due to inaccurate product content.

Amid this data-intensive backdrop, the imperative for businesses is clear: adapt and innovate to remain competitive. This is precisely where 2D barcodes step into the spotlight. By embracing this technology, businesses can fulfill consumer demands for comprehensive product insights, personalized shopping experiences, and compliance with ever-evolving regulatory requirements. Additionally, PIM systems play a pivotal role in meeting these demands by serving as a centralized hub for product data management. PIM systems can seamlessly integrate on-the-fly barcode generation, making them an ideal solution for businesses seeking to use 2D barcodes to provide rich product information.

So, what exactly is a 2D barcode?

A 2D barcode represents an evolution in data encoding and retrieval. Unlike its one-dimensional predecessor, a 2D barcode presents information in two dimensions using a grid or matrix of squares, dots, or other geometric patterns. This allows a 2D barcode to store a wealth of data, transforming it from a mere product identifier to a multifaceted source of information. It can encode not only product numbers but also intricate details about a product's origin, ingredients, usage instructions, and even links to online resources. To tap into all this extra information, you just need a simple scanner or your smartphone camera.

The advanced details consumers are looking for can all be embedded in the 2D barcode. Unlike a UPC code, it all fits into a smaller footprint. This makes it an ideal choice for various labeling and product applications where space optimization is crucial. Additionally, organizations can fully harness the power of 2D barcodes by encoding them with a GS1 Digital Link, enabling connections to all types of B2B and B2C information. As GS1, the standards body for barcodes, points out, this technology has the potential to deliver "improved inventory management, enhanced recall readiness, greater sustainability and ethical sourcing, better product authentication, and greater brand trust."

What benefits does a 2D barcode provide over a traditional barcode?

2D barcodes offer significant advantages in today's consumer-driven landscape, where 53% of shoppers always research before they buy to ensure they are making the best possible choice. The innovations incorporated in 2D barcodes give them certain advantages over 1D barcodes:

  • Higher data capacity
    Unlike traditional barcodes, which primarily contain numerical product identifiers, 2D barcodes can encompass a wide array of details. With a limit of 20 characters, 1D barcodes simply lack the data capacity for inventory management, robust traceability, or combatting counterfeit items. 2D barcodes, however, can hold up to 7,000 characters (depending on the format), allowing businesses to deliver comprehensive product information to consumers, enhance transparency, and improve customer engagement.
  • Direct link to digital content
    2D barcodes offer a direct gateway to digital content, much like a URL leads to a specific website. These barcodes can link consumers to numerous digital resources, such as instructional videos, product reviews, or promotional offers, through a simple scan. The GS1 Digital Link further amplifies this capability by enabling connections to many product-related information sources, which provides increased versatility in terms of the content that can be linked.
  • Customizable design
    Unlike the standardized appearance of traditional barcodes, 2D barcodes offer greater design flexibility. Companies can customize the visual elements of their 2D barcodes to include brand elements, logos, and artistic designs. This departure from the uniform appearance of 1D barcodes not only improves packaging aesthetics but also reinforces brand identity. Providing visually appealing and distinctive barcodes adds an extra layer of creativity to product labeling and marketing strategies.
Varo uses 2D barcodes to provide consumers with extensive information

Types of 2D barcodes

Several types of 2D barcodes have emerged, each tailored to specific needs and applications. Let's take a closer look at some of the most popular 2D barcodes:

  • QR code
    The QR code is perhaps the most recognizable among 2D barcodes. Its distinctive square pattern — often seen on advertisements, product packaging, and various printed materials — can store a range of information, including website links, contact details, and product information. They are easily read by devices such as smartphones and barcode scanners, offer flexible design options, and can store up to 2953 bytes of data.
  • Data Matrix
    Data Matrix barcodes are known for their efficiency and are widely used in manufacturing and logistics for inventory tracking and product identification. They can store text or numeric data – up to 1556 bytes – and consist of a grid of dots, resembling a small square or rectangle. They are capable of encoding letters, numbers, GS1 data, etc. Even with up to 30% of the surface destroyed, Data Matrix barcodes can still be read and decoded.
  • Aztec code
    Aztec codes, characterized by their compact, square design with a central bullseye-like motif, are ideal for encoding large amounts of data. They are commonly used in transportation tickets, government IDs, and healthcare applications for storing extensive information like biometric data or ticket details. The Aztec code can encode up to 1914 bytes of data and is often smaller than other 2D barcodes.
  • PDF417
    The PDF417 barcode is a stacked linear barcode format that offers a high data capacity. Its design – consisting of multiple rows of symbols stacked on top of one another – allows it to store extensive information. This makes it ideal for a variety of applications, including identification cards, shipping labels, and other data-rich documents. PDF417 can encode up to 1850 alphanumeric characters, 2710 digits, or 1108 bytes of data in a single symbol.
  • MaxiCode
    Developed by UPS in 1992, this 2D barcode – with dots arranged in a hexagonal grid – has become a logistics and shipping industry standard. Their concentric circles contain data for package routing and delivery, ensuring precise and efficient handling of shipments, making it an essential tool in the shipping process. MaxiCode adheres to the ISO/IEC 16023:2000 standard and is compatible with various systems and devices.
  • GS1 Composite code
    As the name suggests, the GS1 Composite code combines both a linear (1D) and a 2D component in a single code. With the ability to encode GS1 Application Identifiers (AIs), the GS1 Composite code plays a crucial role in industries like retail and healthcare. It can convey essential details such as item numbers, batch or lot numbers, expiration dates, and more, all within a single barcode.

Benefits of 2D barcodes

The data capacity of 2D barcodes provides significant operational advantages for companies. These versatile codes go beyond traditional barcodes, addressing various aspects of modern operations. Let's delve into the key benefits of 2D barcodes that are shaping industries across the board.

  • Access to complete information
    2D barcodes can store information in both vertical and horizontal orientations, making them versatile for a wide range of data needs. Whether it's product details, shipping information, customer records, or intricate inventory data, 2D barcodes can accommodate it all. This comprehensive information empowers consumers with the insights they crave, fostering informed decision-making and brand trust.
  • Inventory management
    Companies can leverage 2D barcodes for efficient inventory and asset tracking, seamlessly integrating them with existing systems to enhance tracking capabilities. Due to their ability to accommodate various data points, they are particularly valuable for warehouse inventory management, allowing businesses with specific tracking needs to monitor their assets with precision, streamline restocking procedures, and reduce errors.
  • Marketing strategies
    By harnessing the features of 2D barcodes, such as QR Codes, businesses can launch engaging mobile marketing campaigns that captivate customers. QR Codes offer the added advantage of trackability, allowing brands to measure campaign success and leverage insights for future improvements. They provide an easy method to connect with new customers, engage existing ones, and build loyalty.
  • Enhanced security
    2D barcodes offer enhanced security compared to 1D barcodes. They can incorporate data encryption, provide increased data capacity for secure information storage, and support digital signatures for data authenticity verification. They can also employ complex data structures to deter tampering and serve as part of multifactor authentication.
  • Cost and time efficiency
    2D barcodes enable just-in-time (JIT) inventory practices, reducing the need for excess stock and lowering storage costs, which can be significant in traditional inventory systems. Moreover, they streamline data entry by holding more information and facilitating faster scans compared to manual data typing. This significantly speeds up the data entry process, enhancing overall efficiency and minimizing costs.
  • Error correction
    Unlike 1D barcodes, which lack error correction features, 2D barcodes are engineered to withstand damage to a certain degree, ensuring readability even in less-than-ideal conditions. This is achieved through four error correction levels, ranging from as low as 7% to as high as 30%. Whether it's a slight smudge or minor wear and tear, 2D barcodes maintain their functionality, reducing the risk of data loss or scanning errors.

What are the applications of a 2D barcode?

2D barcodes have made a significant impact across industries, providing tailored features to meet unique needs. Here are some sectors already benefiting from the applications of 2D barcodes:

  • Retail
    Retailers can implement 2D barcodes for mobile payments and checkouts, allowing customers to scan products with their smartphones, add them to their digital shopping carts, and complete transactions without physical contact with cashier terminals. This enhances convenience for shoppers while streamlining store operations, reducing wait times, and minimizing the need for traditional checkout lines. According to GS1, “the industry-defined goal is to enable the use of 2D barcodes, in addition to existing 1D barcodes, at retail point-of-sale across the globe by the end of 2027.”
  • Healthcare
    2D barcodes contribute to significant improvements in patient safety and operational efficiency in healthcare. One example is Fresenius Kabi, a Germany-based company that has leveraged GS1 DataMatrix barcodes to improve healthcare safety and traceability. The implementation of 2D barcodes on the company's pharmaceutical products enables automatic identification and access to accurate information for every individual unit. This minimizes errors and raises patient safety standards.
  • Manufacturing
    2D barcodes play a key role in streamlining manufacturing operations. They enable efficient inventory management, ensure product traceability, and simplify data entry, leading to faster and more reliable processes. But these barcodes also have other intriguing applications. For example, companies like Hyundai and Tesla use 2D barcodes in their hybrid and electric vehicles to enhance safety, allowing emergency services to swiftly identify these vehicles and take appropriate actions during incidents.
  • Warehouse and logistics
    In the warehouse and logistics sector, 2D barcodes are essential in optimizing operations. Amazon, one of the world's largest ecommerce companies, relies heavily on 2D barcodes to enhance its supply chain efficiency. Each product arriving at an Amazon fulfillment center is assigned a unique 2D barcode containing all relevant information. These barcodes are scanned throughout the fulfillment process to ensure accurate picking, packing, and shipping.

Small square, big impact

In this age of information, where 2D barcodes are revolutionizing the way consumers access product details, the role of PIM systems becomes even more relevant. PIM acts as the backbone that enables businesses to efficiently organize, centralize, and share the extensive product information embedded within 2D barcodes. PIM systems empower companies to not only encode basic product identifiers but also curate and update comprehensive information about origins, ingredients, usage instructions, sustainability insights, and more — all of which consumers increasingly demand.

As advanced barcodes replace traditional ones, companies can provide richer shopping experiences, setting new standards for transparency. Varo, a leading European distributor of power tools, garden equipment, and hand tools, recognized the changing landscape of consumer demands and stepped up its game. By incorporating QR codes into its product packaging, Varo has taken the lead in providing consumers with the information they crave. And how did they do it? By leveraging product data encoded in 2D barcodes using Contentserv's QR code generator within the PIM.

Embracing technologies like PIM systems and 2D barcodes is more than just staying ahead; it's about undergoing a digital transformation. As you prepare for the evolution of 2D barcodes, remember the words of Steve Jobs: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” This is your opportunity to lead, transforming the way you provide customer experiences and ensuring your business thrives in the digital era.

Ready to transform your product management and engage consumers like never before?

Explore Contentserv's PIM solution now.