Barcode is 46 years old

The barcode is on every pack of biscuits, as well as on medicines, drills and make-up items.

The barcode is the way to uniquely identify items and has developed into an all-rounder.

Today, an estimated barcode is scanned 10 billion times a day worldwide. Pieter Maarleveld, director GS1 Netherlands: “Some say that love makes the world go round, others say money. We believe that GS1 barcodes make the world go round. We are so used to seeing barcodes that we don’t even notice them anymore. ”

Pieter Maarleveld from GS1

The barcode is nothing but the translation of a series of numbers into a barcode. Actually, it is the unique combination of numbers that identify a product and provide access to a wealth of information about the product. It does not matter whether this number is translated into a barcode with dashes, a QR, an (RFID) chip or a GS1 DataMatrix (for healthcare).

From bullseye to barcode

The history of the barcode starts in 1948. Bernard Silver develops with Norman Woodland the very first barcode in the form of a circle, the ‘bullseye’. This is registered in a patent on October 7, 1952, but the system does not work. More than twenty years later, IBM introduced the well-known variant with straight lines. Scanning now works. The scoop was on June 26, 1974 for a grocery store in Ohio: the first product – a pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum, bought for 67 cents – was scanned.

Barcodes in the Netherlands by mister Albert Heijn

Mister Albert Heijn was immediately impressed by the barcode system while traveling in America. He wanted to introduce the system immediately in the Netherlands, but soon concluded that more was needed than a large number of bilateral agreements with suppliers. That is why GS1 Netherlands (then EAN Netherlands) was founded in 1976: an independent party that had to guarantee the sector-wide introduction of the barcode.

Less than a year later, in January 1977, a product with a barcode was scanned for the first time in Heemskerk. It was a pack of Douwe Egberts coffee. Albert Heijn took it with satisfaction. The barcode has changed the way of shopping forever. Initially, the barcode was intended to speed up the checkout process, but now the barcode offers many more advantages according to GS1. The customer receives a specified receipt, while retailers can use the sales data to improve purchasing and inventory management and to better tailor assortments to sales patterns.

Today, the barcode, also known as EAN or GTIN, is a source of additional information for supermarkets, hardware stores and other stores. The barcode number is increasingly linked to (GS1) data pools, which are full of product information. Consumers can scan barcodes themselves to learn more about products, receive personalized offers and, for example, receive warnings about possible allergy risks. Online sales platforms such as, eBay and Amazon also all want an official GS1 barcode for products offered on their websites.

Fewer mistakes and lower healthcare costs

The barcode has also proven its value outside retail. In healthcare, barcodes help increase patient safety and reduce costs. By scanning both the barcodes on the medication and the patient’s wristband in hospitals, the number of errors in medication administration decreases by 50 percent.

By providing medical devices such as implants with a unique identification, they are easier to find in case of a recall. The barcode also helps to prevent the sale of counterfeit medicines; An estimated 700,000 people die every year from counterfeit medicines worldwide. Various (international) laws and regulations such as the Medical Device Regulation (MDR), National Implant Register (LIR) and the Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) require unique barcodes.

Barcodes, RFID and QR codes: license to operate

Now that companies are digitizing their processes at a rapid pace, the iconic number range offers even more possibilities. Think of the Internet of Things, which offers new possibilities in the field of marketing, logistics, merchandising and sales. To take more advantage of the unique coding of articles, 2D barcodes (QR) and RFID are now available in addition to the traditional barcodes. In the fashion sector in particular, we see an increase in the use of RFID. Retailers thus receive reliable information about store stocks, which they can share online with consumers.

A new development is GS1 Digital Link. By using the GS1 codes (identification numbers) in web addresses, it is possible to link products by scanning the barcode, QR code or RFID tag in a standard manner to online information and services. FrieslandCampina is the first Dutch company to use GS1 Digital Link to provide consumers in Asia with insight into the origin of their milk powder. The barcode has become a “license to operate” in various sectors, for now and in the future.

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