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How Barcodes And Label Printers Changed The Face Of The Retail Industry

Mar 11, 2008
Ever wondered when the first barcode was put to use? Have you ever questioned how long we have been using the barcode as a security tool in the consumer/retail industry? Barcodes are an essential part of securing and identifying a product, since its first uses their appearance and functions have not changed a great deal. However, they have become furthermore secure, with retail industries clamping down on anti-theft crime.

Specialised label printers were built to print the barcodes out making it easier to attach them to the products. They were also used to print onto the packaging, which can be an expensive process. Barcodes made it easier for retail shop owners to monitor how much stock they had left and reduced the number hours spent on keeping track of how much was sold. This also provided a more accurate way of monitoring shoplifters.


Before the invention of label printers, barcodes and scanners, shopkeepers of the 1930s had no choice but to spend at least once a month counting up all bags, cans, packets of goods making a note of how much was sold and calculating the figures in correspondence to the stock numbers. This was a cumbersome job and often shopkeepers would estimate the number of stock available.

This was of course inaccurate crude judgement; therefore, a desperate need for a new system was in demand. Wallace Flint, a business student at Harvard University of 1932, wrote a master's thesis, which described a new system whereby customers selected their products from a catalogue that had hole-punched cards beside them, which they could tear out to take to the till. They would then insert the card into a specially designed reader machine, which would then produce the products to the customer through a conveyer belt system.

However, this system was flawed, as the machinery itself was extremely expensive and difficult to build. In theory, the system would have worked, but the truth of the matter was that no retail business could afford this equipment. Therefore, the first steps towards barcodes finally came to action in 1948.

The head of the food industry had pleaded with the dean of Philadelphia's Drexel Institute of Technology to undergo research in automatically reading product information through the checkout. Bernard Silver and Norman Joseph Woodland, graduate students at Drexel, began working various prototype codes and labelling.

The main problems of coming up with a solution was expense, materials and installation. During the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s several formats of the barcode was invented which included the numeral code and bulls-eye code. It would not be until 1973 that the industry standard codes were chosen, UPC. This was implemented in all retail stores, thus popularising the barcode system.

Today with the advancement of computer technology and the invention of improved label printers, the barcode is a prevalent source in almost all retail stores. These are also applied to military and industrial applications. Many companies have developed and generated software that can manipulate bar coding. With this in mind the bar coding system will one day be replaced as technology further advances, but for now they remain the primary use for the retail industry.
About the Author
Anna Stenning is an expert on label printers and barcode, having worked in the retail industry before. For more information visit http://www.click4barcodes.co.uk/
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