Transforming retail one bar code at a time

Johannesburg, 01 Jun 2022
Read time 3min 30sec
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Everyone is familiar with the traditional 1D bar code – after all, it’s been around for decades and appears on almost every product we buy. The introduction of the bar code revolutionised the retail sector in particular and completely changed the way we shop.

In today’s always-on, connected world – where a majority of consumers have smartphones – the limitations of 1D bar codes are becoming increasingly apparent. The ubiquitous EAN/UPC linear bar code can only contain a limited amount of information, and this tends to be entirely functional. Other than adding efficiency, it cannot contribute to the consumers’ shopping experience. As brands compete for the increasingly fragmented attention of modern shoppers, they are looking for ways to entertain and inform consumers at the point of purchase.

GS1 – advocating for 2D bar codes

GS1 is a global not-for-profit organisation that advocates for the design and implementation of universal bar coding standards. As a result, they possess a deep understanding of Auto ID solutions – and how these can be improved. GS1 is predicting a substantial shift from 1D bar codes to 2D bar codes, with most of this migration due to take place by 2027.

This shift is entirely aligned with the need to capture and share more, and more complex, data. 2D bar codes – of which QR codes are probably the most common example – are not restricted by length limitations in the same way that 1D bar codes are. This means they can carry much more information, including product ingredients and allergens, multimedia content and links to additional online resources.

2D bar codes represent a sea change in the function of bar codes, whereas the purpose of 1D bar codes is all to do with pricing and stock management, and they are indecipherable to consumers. 2D bar codes are more geared towards the needs of shoppers and can perform powerful infotainment and marketing roles that can sway purchase decisions.

Proposed new global norms, such as the GS1 standards, offer the potential to combine function with fun: the data that retailers still need, plus a much more engaging user experience.

Technical improvements

2D bar codes are more compact, which means they detract less from the overall appearance of the product packaging. They also offer a lot more creative freedom and can be incorporated into designs and branding in ways that linear bar codes cannot.

In addition, QR codes and other forms offer enhanced reliability over traditional 1D bar codes thanks to built-in error correction. This adds further efficiencies to the retail environment, and indirectly benefits consumers through saving time at the till and avoiding incorrect pricing or failures to scan.

Preparing the way

In addition to 2D advocacy, GS1 has formed community engagement workgroups focused on providing the resources needed to pilot and implement these changes, and on working together with brand marketing professionals to seamlessly integrate marketing and supply chain elements of the business.

This will enable both brands and retailers to leverage the exciting potential of 2D bar codes and take something that was hitherto purely technical and use it to create immersive shopping experiences that will build brand loyalty without in any way detracting from the necessary functions long performed by 1D bar codes.

GS1 is also working with industry leaders to develop implementation guides to assist all stakeholders with the migration to 2D. This will include consumer information – much of the impact of 2D bar codes could be lost if shoppers are unaware of the potential they have to make each shopping trip more entertaining and enjoyable.

For more information about bar coding and auto ID solutions from Kemtek, contact Gillian Mearns on (+27) 083 234 1966, email her at or visit

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13 Aug
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