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Barcodes vs QR Codes

Many of us hardly notice those little blocks with black and white stripes on the products we buy, let alone know why some are different shapes or what they do. Product barcodes have been around since the 1950s and have become an essential tool for businesses and retailers for inventory control, sales operations and product tracking.

Nowadays, a new type of code is dominating retailers with consumers being told to “Scan the QR Code” to do this and that. So, what exactly is this QR Code and how is it different from the traditional barcode?

One Dimensional Barcodes

Barcodes are a ubiquitous part of our shopping experience and often go unnoticed and unappreciated. If you think about how many products you buy in a year, and that every single one has a barcode on it, you start to realise how the humble barcode makes modern retail possible.

These linear or 1D (dimensional) barcodes are made up of a row of vertical black lines on a white background that determine a specific code, or series of numbers between 0 and 9, that’s tied to a particular product. When scanned by a barcode scanner, this code links to a digital inventory system and can identify the product name, price, size, colour, its intended location other attributes. But typically, this code identifies the product type and not the individual product, so if you buy three packets of the same brand beef soup for example, the cashier just has to scan the one pack three times instead of each pack individually.

Two Dimensional Barcodes

Two dimensional barcodes use patterns of squares, dots and other shapes to encode data both horizontally and vertically. Because the data has a 2D pattern, these barcodes can hold more data than 1D barcodes while still appearing physically smaller. There are different types of 2D barcodes, such as QR Codes, Aztec Codes, Data Matrix, and others, all used in a wide range of industries, from manufacturing and warehousing to logistics and healthcare.

The QR Code (Quick Response Code) came about in the 1990s and has expanded on the capabilities and usability of the linear barcode. The QR Code is a 2D barcode that uses a series of squares inside a larger square to encode large amounts of information and track individual items with a greater level of security and accuracy.

Due to their high level of security, QR Codes are used extensively as an easy and safe digital payment method. QR Codes can also be scanned faster than barcodes thanks to their positioning markers in three corners that automatically align the code to the scanner. Speaking of scanners, the average consumer carries one with them at all times – their smartphone. A smartphone camera can easily scan QR Codes which then links consumers to an array of product related information via the internet. Basically, a marketer’s dream for consumer engagement, off packaging in particular.

For packaging, we can now use GS1 Digital Links to web-enable your products and scan them at the checkout. GS1 Digital Links encode standards-based data into any 2D line-of-sight data carrier such as a Data Matrix or QR Code. The Digital Link represents a URL (Universal Resource Locator) and a GTIN (Global Trade Item Number), so the same code can be read by both retailers’ scanners and consumers’ smartphones.

For basic back-of-house inventory management and checking out customers at the store, linear barcodes still do a great job. This, plus the fact that there’s extensive infrastructure already in place to work with these barcodes, will probably see them sticking around for a while, but GS1 Digital Links are coming.

For just about anything else however, QR Codes have the upper hand. They are more flexible, have increased capabilities and are great for interacting with consumers through in-depth product details and marketing information.

Barcodes and QR Codes each perform vital roles and add significant value to your brand and business. For more packaging insights and information, get in touch with us here.