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QRCoding: The global transition from traditional 1D barcodes to 2D barcodes


Since the early 1970s, UPC/EAN barcodes have been trusted with product identification and price look-up function in retail and other businesses but retail is now looking at a new transition that it needs to make as soon as possible; the transition towards more capable 2D barcodes (QR code/ data matrix).

The invention of barcode and global acceptance of UPC (12 digits Universal Product Code) and EAN (Electronic Article No.) codes as unique identifier for trade items globally was a revolutionary step in global trade. The retail businesses across the globe benefitted from quick product identification and quick POS (Point of Sale) operations but this is 2023 and various technologies now exist that are far more capable than legacy 1D barcodes when it comes to product identification and even real-time tracking of products. Technologies such as RFID and QR codes and data matrix barcode (2D) can store more data than a 1D barcode and provide business owners and consumers with more information on products. The need is not just limited to a unique product GTIN (Global Trade Item Number), a unique identifier but consumers need more data on products such as expiry date, origin, lot number or serial number and internet links to ingredients and allergen information, product pictures, videos, and even consumer reviews of the product. Since a 2D barcode is encoded both vertically and horizontally, it can hold more data than a 1D barcode. A QR code can be written with around 200 words text, URL, Numerical and alphanumerical data, image and even PDF. Hence, GS1, the global standard organization which deals with global practice on UPC and EAN came up with a proposal and an ambition for 2027 regarding barcode uses with changing consumer and business expectations.

The GS1 Global Proposal for 2D barcode (QR Code) Transition

GS1 realized that legacy linear 1D barcodes are limited in their data storage capacity, hence not able to provide more information to consumers, brands and retailers and everyone in between. A transition towards more capable 2D barcodes will enhance the overall experiences of traders and consumers and that is why GS1 is supporting industries around the world “to harness the power of these barcodes to enable new business solutions for today...and into the future.”

GS1 organization, in collaboration with the industry, has set an ambitious objective of transitioning from outdated linear 1D barcodes to new and advanced 2D barcodes on packaging. The initial goal is for retail point of sale (POS) scanners worldwide to be capable of reading and processing both the old and new barcodes by the end of 2027. It is working with industry to facilitate this transition and provide consistent guidance for various business applications. It's important to note that while there won't be a single 2D barcode selected for all industries, GS1 aims to offer options that allow each industry to choose how they adopt more capable barcodes, while ensuring global consistency in implementation.

GS1 explicitly suggests that 1D linear barcodes (with actual bars) will still be in use even after 2027 as 1D EAN/UPC barcodes will continue to coexist with 2D barcodes for as long as they serve a purpose.

Differences Between 1D barcode and 2D barcode

While the trading partners and retailers globally transition into 2D barcodes, let’s see some of the benefits a 2D barcode has over legacy 1D barcodes:

1D Barcode (UPC-A, EAN-13)

2D Barcode (QR Code, Data Matrix)

The data storage capacity is limited to 12-13 digits.

Ample amount of data storage (approx 200 words, numerical, image, URL etc.)

Laser and optical scanners can be used to scan such barcodes.

Optical scanners are needed to scan 2D barcodes/QR codes.

Scanning is line of sight; proper alignment between barcode and scanner is needed.

360 degree scanning is possible.

Less efficient, slow, and less productive.

Quite efficient with quick scanning, quick response without error.

Cannot be edited once printed.

You can edit dynamic QR codes even after printing.


GS1 Plan for 2D Barcode Implementations

 The GS1 proposal towards transitioning into 2D barcodes has some clear objective in mind. The plan is to build solutions based on standardized and interoperable data for all trade partners allowing them to understand each other and use the information in their systems. It also aims to reduce the data carriers on product packages and to allow better use of the valuable space for branding and merchandising. Besides, the GS1 proposal also supports widespread adoption of data rich carriers (2D barcodes) for greater efficiency and interoperable information exchange across industries.

Keeping the above objective in mind GS1 plans two types of planned implementations, one for the transition period and one after 2027.

The transition period implementation involves use of 2D barcode (QR code/data matrix barcode) along with 1D UPC/EAN barcodes and GS1ambition for the 2027 involves use of either 1D barcode or 2D barcode but not both (as shown in the image at top).

Apart from that, in order to support this transition, retailers also need to upgrade their barcode scanners from existing linear/laser scanners to optical scanners. This expansion of scanning environment would also include retailers to upgrade the programming of their barcode scanners to allow it to scan different type of barcodes as per need as the traditional barcode scanners are factory programmed to prioritize liner (EAN-13 and UPC-A) barcodes and have disabled or turned off other barcodes decoding algorithms guided by their specific needs.

 To conclude, GS1 has proposed a global transition from 1D linear barcodes to more capable 2D QR codes and it is expecting that by 2027, more trading partners and retailers will be using a single barcoding technique to allow better interoperability and information sharing. Meanwhile, for the transition period, GS1 suggests using linear and 2D barcodes in combination for better collaboration as businesses slowly make the transition towards 2D barcodes. The 2D barcodes (QR code and data matrix) can be encoded with data both horizontally and vertically, resulting in more data storage capabilities than linear 1D barcodes. This allows retailers and customers to get more information from products such as expiry date, batch no. ingredients, customer reviews etc.

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  • Created on Aug 09, 2023

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