Ambiguity, the Enemy of Barcode Quality
Barcode quality is risk management. This risk can take several forms. A chargeback is the cost of stickers and labor to over-label bad barcodes. But the damages do not end there. A further risk is the damage to a vendor’s reputation and future relationship with that trading partner. These are the risks and consequences of bad barcodes escaping into the supply chain. What are the root causes of these risks?
The most obvious causes are lack of quality control tools and procedures. The best tool for barcode quality assurance is a barcode verifier. A common justification for not having barcode quality tools fall into two camps:
- A barcode verifier is expensive. While this is true, it is often also true that the cost of one or two chargebacks would pay for a verifier. Every prevented barcode problem after that is pure profit.
- The “history predicts future” excuse: “We have never had a barcode problem (therefore we never will).” History never predicts the future unless that history is deeply examined and understood, including how many times your barcodes were unknowingly near failing.
The History Predicts Future Myth
All businesses have a culture. In some companies it is intentionally crafted by leadership. In other companies, the culture is more “organic”, situational or ad hoc. While neither is intrinsically better, there is a danger that important performance parameters may not be clear.
Last year I hired a sincere, good-hearted fellow to cut my grass. His was a new upstart business in my community. His business model was “work hard and charge a reasonable rate.” He attracted lots of new business and quickly grew beyond his capacity. He started showing up later and later for his appointed times, then forgetting them altogether. When he did show up he would tear around the yard at top speed, leaving strips of uncut grass and rows of hacked and bent over grass. He was really working hard but the product was poor quality. I was contemplating replacing him when he went out of business.
Ambiguity: a root cause of poor quality
Hard work is not enough. It is not even a key ingredient of success. It plays a supporting role. Clarity is a key ingredient. Ambiguity is one of the root causes of risk. Ambiguity in what is expected and ambiguity is who is responsible. There is very little ambiguity in the need for barcode quality. If there is a barcode on a package, it is expected to scan quickly and correctly, wherever it goes, whatever type and age of scanner is used to scan it. There may be ignorance on the part of key players, from the brand owner, the graphics designer to the printer on what barcode quality involves. But the presence of the barcode is unambiguous: that barcode is supposed to scan.
When multiple hands touch the barcode, ambiguity can enter. If the brand owner supplies the barcode files, it becomes ambiguous who is responsible for barcode quality. The brand owner does not know how to properly prepare the barcode file for the printer, or that an offset printer needs a differently prepared barcode file than a flexo printer, the expectations are clear but because of ambiguity, the responsibility is cloudy.
When a barcode fails, chargebacks and consequential damages will clarify and assign responsibility. The thin veil of ambiguity protects no one.
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