Why the barcode could soon be abolished after 50 years

It consists of black vertical bars of varying widths. We are talking about the barcode or bar code. For example, the code printed on goods automatically transmits the price to the checkout and just recently celebrated its 50th birthday. Now the end of beeping at supermarket checkouts is threatening.

As early as the early 1950s, people in Switzerland and the USA were trying to develop a universal code that would contain the price in coded form, for example. A first patent dates back to 1952. Initially, however, nobody was interested in the new technology for labeling goods. But in the early 1970s, the well-known US supermarket chain Walmart, among others, put the pressure on. Walmart and other food companies are calling for a nationwide introduction of a universal barcode.

First barcode starts in 1973

This is how speed comes into development. Finally, in 1973, the so-called Universal Product Code (UPC) saw the light of day. The barcode consists of 12 digits and a check digit. Up to 30 characters can be stored behind the UPC. In addition, the new code can be printed and read on all goods and products. That’s why it’s a pack of chewing gum whose barcode is read by a scanner in a supermarket in Ohio in 1974. This was intended to demonstrate to the industry that the new barcode works perfectly even on small products.

Similar barcodes will soon be developed in other regions of the world. In Europe, for example, the European Article Number (EAN) – or EAN code for short – began to spread in 1976. This is fully compliant with the US UPC.

The introduction of a universal barcode thus also accelerates international trade. A globalized world of goods as we know it today would be unthinkable without barcodes.

Bar code end appears

After 50 years, however, the barcode is threatened with extinction. The US organization GS1 takes care of the standards for all existing barcodes worldwide. GS1 reports that the barcode will soon be replaced by a coded data matrix. This new code looks and works like the well-known QR code.

Also read: How does a QR code scanner actually work?

According to GS1, this results in advantages for industry and customers. A significant improvement for the goods producers: Up to 3000 characters can be stored in the code. Information would be conceivable, for example

  • for durability,
  • for production or
  • to the materials used.

At the same time, customers can easily read out this information via smartphone. This creates a completely new shopping experience for customers, promises GS1.

The organization has set a time frame for the industry. Accordingly, the barcode and the new QR code should initially exist side by side. From the year 2027, the new code will then replace the old barcode. However, the organization does not commit itself. The transition should be flexible. The GS1 decision states that the new code may be used from 2027. However, this does not result in a mandatory obligation.

The good old barcode will remain for a while and with it the cherished beeping noise at the checkout when reading the code.