Life begins at 40

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October 2, 2019 marked the 40th anniversary of the very first barcode being scanned in the UK.

I heard the former secretary general of GS1, Andrew Osborne, on the radio a couple of weeks ago reflecting on this momentous occasion that took place in Keymarkets in Spalding.

He spoke of the reluctance by retailers to invest in the technology as well as the resistance by manufacturers to incorporate barcodes into their packaging designs. He explained how GS1 brokered the deal to encourage manufacturers to start including the barcode in their artwork in return for free POS data from retailers. 

And now consider how much the world depends on the information and data we get from barcodes, QR codes and RFID tags, from tracking and tracing to preventing life-threatening counterfeit drugs from entering the supply chain. I doubt anyone envisaged back in 1979 quite how much the barcode would impact lives. As we enter its fifth decade, around 70,000† barcodes are being scanned globally every second.

They have transformed sectors like retail, healthcare, manufacturing and logistics, by improving security, efficiency, safety and compliance. 

As we move forwards, I expect them to play larger parts in improving more business processes and customer satisfaction and, maybe add to that mix, building more sustainable deliveries.

Because as we’ve seen in the media recently, driven largely by youth, there is a huge drive to decelerate climate change and do more to support sustainability. We exhibited last month at IMHX and there was much being talked about the challenges of optimising transport and operations sustainably as well as minimising waste.

UK retailers are already planning to invest in more sustainable delivery options, apportioning 11.4%* of their revenue to it in the next five years. They plan to reduce packaging, use more biodegradable packaging, deliver to more centralised points for local collection and use more electric vehicles.

But all this comes at a price and there’s a disparity in what retailers believe customers would be willing to pay (5.6%*) for more sustainable deliveries and what customers admit to (1.8%*). Indeed 62%* of consumers expect retailers to absorb all the extra costs of sustainability. 

So maybe a policy of short-term targets to meet long term goals is the way forward. Brexit continues to create uncertainty, and we saw a lot of nervousness at IHMX about committing to large investments. I think that’s why we saw a lot of interest at the show in the concept of our hardware rental scheme. It provides a no-risk option for Brexit-nervous, budget-restricted supply chain users. 

And undoubtedly, technology will prove vital in helping not just businesses become more sustainable but also their extended supply chains. McKinsey1 estimates that over 90% of companies’ environmental impact comes from their supply chains. While 29%1 of companies have experienced difficulties in monitoring complex supply chains it will the use of IoT, including barcodes, RFID and GPS sensors, that will help with data collection, monitoring and ultimately, accountability. 

So I think barcoding, in whatever shape it morphs into, will be with us for the foreseeable future. It has evolved a lot in 40 years, I look forward to where it’s going in the next decade.

† Source: GS1

* Barclays ‘Is sustainability the new loyalty in retail and wholesale?’

1 ‘Sustainability: The Missing Link’ Llamasoft

Richard Gilliard

Renovotec is the UK’s largest independent rugged hardware and maintenance, software and services company. Managing Director Richard Gilliard has helped lead the organisation for over 25 years, supporting customers across many sectors including warehousing and distribution, transport and logistics, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, seaports and field mobility. Richard's drive is to enable firms through…

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