Mythbusting: Online Shopping is Making Barcode Quality Obsolete

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It is well known that retail shopping is in sharp decline, thanks to online shopping. It is logical to extrapolate that retail barcode scanning is becoming less important, maybe even obsolete—logical but incorrect. But first let’s define terms. Online shopping isn’t just logging onto Amazon and buying something. That’s online purchasing. Online shopping includes, well, shopping—browsing for items, looking for ideas and inspiration. Much of this is mobile, and it is changing the shopper and the shopping experience.

In a recent “think with Google” article entitled How Mobile Has Redefined the Consumer Decision Journey for Shoppers, it is reported that 82% of smartphone users research their purchases on their phones, while foot traffic in retails stores has declined by 57%. And the value of the store visit has nearly tripled. This means that the shopping experience while in the store and at checkout is more important than ever—and the barcodes must work, first time, every time.

Online shopping isn’t just done off-site of a brick-and-mortar retail establishment—in fact a lot of it is done on-site. Product research—should I buy this product, or this other one?—and price comparisons between retailers is a frequent and increasing mobile shopping activity. All of these activities involve barcode scanning and of course that means the barcode must work.

Point-of-sale isn’t the only place where barcodes are used. The “think with Google” article also makes the point that online purchasing is also increasing, and 34% of online retail purchases are done on mobile devices. While it is true that no barcodes are scanned at the purchase transaction, barcodes are very much involved in product movement through the supply chain right up to delivery at the consumer’s door. Next day—and even same day—delivery only intensifies the requirement for high quality barcodes, not obsoleting them.

How important is this? More important that perhaps you think. Target has observed that 90% of its shoppers were shopping digitally, 75% starting on a mobile device.

It is also important to include the broader scope of shopping, as mentioned above. Shopping isn’t just purchasing; sometimes it is searching for inspiration. But when inspiration hits, purchasing follows, sometimes in the form of impulse buying—but the inspiration bubble can quickly burst with disappointment; the online portal shows the perfect patio set that the local store doesn’t actually have, possibly because of an inventory glitch, maybe a barcode failure. I have personally experienced this disappointment more than once at a local big box retailer, whose local store pickup system doesn’t communicate well with their online purchasing system. Something in their supply chain or communications system is broken.

Online shopping is not obsoleting barcode quality—if anything, it is making it ever more important.

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