Barcode Quality: Who is Responsible for It?

 In 101

The testing lab has been very busy at Barcode-Test LLC in recent months. In several cases our testing services were hired to settle a disagreement between the brand owner and the label printer; the former asserts that the barcodes are bad and the latter insists they are just fine. Our test results have agreed with the former as often as the latter—that much is not predictable. But the implicit question always present is, “Who is responsible for barcode quality?”

The Implicit Question in a Barcode Quality Dispute: Who Is Responsible?

Decades of work in barcode quality has convinced me that this is really the wrong question, although it is somewhat reassuring to hear people using the phrase “…responsible for barcode quality…” in a sentence. But unfortunately what they are usually seeking is absolution (or who to blame), not an actual answer.

Who is responsible for barcode quality? The actual answer is, “Anyone who has any involvement with the barcode.” In earlier days I would exempt the end user from any responsibility, but lately I include the end user because if they don’t report poorly performing barcodes, how can they expect improvement? Or as it was expressed at the 2012 Automatic Identification and Data Capture Technical Institute at Ohio University, “you get what you enforce.”

Who is Responsible for Barcode Quality? Anybody with Involvement with the Barcode

I have heard anecdotally that Wal-Mart is no longer concerned about barcode quality. They still impose heavy fines for poorly performing barcodes but, so the story goes, they don’t really care if the vendors correct problem barcodes because the fines have become a lucrative line item on the income statement. I find it hard to believe because it’s so cynical and because barcodes are so integral to a business model built on excellence in distribution.

But if barcode quality really is the goal, then the question of who is responsible is rhetorical. A company that says it cares and then acts otherwise is abdicating its responsibility in the supply chain and not really serious about barcode quality, in which case the question of responsibility is really about liability and not about quality.

If barcode quality really is the goal, then the correct question is not who, but when: when should the barcode be tested? If “…anybody with involvement with the barcode” is the right answer to the question of who is responsible, as stated above,  then one might think that “always and everywhere” is the right answer to the question of “When should the barcode be tested?”

Who is Responsible, or When is the best time to test for Barcode Quality

The best time to test barcodes is while they are being produced. That’s when you can detect bad barcodes and do something about improving them before they escape into the supply chain. Is at the press the only place where barcodes should be tested? Of course not, but it is the best place.

As stated above, everybody involved with the barcode is responsible for its quality, but its way bigger and broader than liability. Barcodes are the key ingredient in supply chain integrity, which not only gets the right product to the customer on time, it conserves energy and minimizes waste at the demand-manufacturing stage, the packaging and distribution stage and the delivery to the point of purchase.

Who is responsible for barcode quality? Why everybody, of course.

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