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The Future Of Barcode Technology Could Be Invisible

Written by Ken Gaebler
Published: 10/16/2014

One of the oldest technologies in the retail industry may be undergoing a major facelift.

Although one of the most pervasive technologies in the retail technology industry, barcode scanning has been around since the 1930s when grocers needed a solution to track and manage growing inventory levels. Now used in a variety of industries, the barcode is everywhere, from hospital ID bracelets to QR codes on advertisements. But with the digital revolution and other emerging technologies, the barcode as we know it may become obsolete.

History and Future of Barcodes

The barcode scanning industry has already changed significantly since the inception of mobile barcodes and scanning technology that allows users to scan barcodes directly from a smartphone camera. A recent study by VDC Research discovered that global handheld laser barcode scanner vendors experienced a 1 percent loss in revenue in 2013. Although this sounds small, trade journal ScanIt.com notes that "it's a trend that will continue as enterprises adopt camera-based scanning solutions that are not offered by the traditional market leaders."

So what is the future of the barcode industry? One company, Digimarc Barcode, thinks it will be invisible barcodes embedded into product packaging.

According to Point of Sale News, "Based on digital watermarking technology, data containing a product's standard Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) is repeated across the item's packaging graphics in a way that is imperceptible to the human eye, but detectable by POS scanners, smartphones, tablets and other devices enabled with Digimarc software. Printed on all sides of an item, often hundreds of times, these imperceptible barcodes effectively make all sides of a package scannable without affecting its graphic aesthetics."

Digimarc software claims to significantly improve return on investment for retailers that augment traditional barcodes with these invisible barcodes due to significant labor cost savings and efficiency gains.

When considering technology planning for small businesses, we will have to wait and see if this new technology will gain traction. But one thing does seem certain--barcode scanning is not going away any time soon. According to Wasp Barcode Technologies, the mobile barcode scanning market is expected to reach $350 million by 2015. The top three industries for barcode scanning include the shipping, medical and military sectors.

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