Happy Birthday UPC

My friend Dan Conway, a retail trivia buff, sent me the following:

AA047332.jpgIn June 1974, one of the first UPC scanner, made by NCR Corp. (which was then called National Cash Register Co), was installed at Marsh's supermarket in Troy, Ohio. On June 26, 1974, the first product with a bar code was scanned at a check-out counter. It was a 10-pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum. The pack of gum wasn't specially designated to be the first scanned product. It just happened to be the first item lifted from the cart by a shopper whose name is long since lost to history. Today, the pack of gum is on display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

The humble bar code turns 35 this month. A collection of black stripes on merchandise sold over retail counters has changed the world. The most obvious benefit of bar coding is that consumers need to spend less time at check-out counters, waiting for their bills to be manually prepared. These days, it takes a few swipes over a bar code reader to do the trick. Bar coding has helped retailers and manufacturers keep a close eye on sale patterns in real time, knowing exactly when to stock up or run down inventory. That has led to a radically new world of efficient supply chains and tight inventory management.


Bar code standards are now managed globally by GS1, which was formed from the Uniform Code Council (UPC Code) and EAN (European Article Numbering). They are pushing a new standard called the DataBar that contains more information. Databars can hold data on expiration dates, lot numbers, and variable weight information. This will make checkout more accurate, especially at grocery stores. GS1 has a video that explains the DataBar's value.

The goal was to have everyone using DataBars by January 1, 2010 but that date was recently extended to 2014. Many retailers, especially grocery stores, can handle both old UPC and new DataBar codes with updated hardware.

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David Dorf, Sr Director Technology Strategy for Oracle Retail, shares news and ideas about the retail industry with a focus on innovation and emerging technologies.


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