How to get Barcodes
All you need to know about where and how to get barcodes in South Africa
Although getting a barcode for your first product can seem like a daunting task, with a little bit of knowledge and education you'll see it's not as hard as it seems. It took me a few weeks to make sense of the all the barcode jargon and information, so I've presented a summary over here.
The basics and a bit of history:
Imagine if every time you did your groceries the cashier had to individually look up the price of each item and then manually enter that price into the till. If you had a whole trolley full of food that could take a long time! It's hard to imagine, but 25 years ago that was the norm in South Africa. Barcode scanners were the exception rather than the rule, but thankfully by the late 1990's barcoding technology had begun to take hold. As they say, the rest is history and thankfully nowadays most stores across South Africa now use the barcoding system for identifying products within their cash-register and inventory systems. The ability to scan an item and have it's price automatically entered into the till has dramatically reduced the amount of time the average person needs to spend at a given shop. Barcoding has also had a profound effect on sales and service efficiency of retailers. I found this quote on wikipedia when I first started learning about barcodes:
"about 5 weeks after installing barcode scanners, sales in grocery stores typically started climbing and eventually levelled off at a 10-12% increase in sales that never dropped off. There also was a 1–2% decrease in operating cost for the stores that enabled them to lower prices to increase market share. It was shown in the field that the return on investment for a barcode scanner was 41.5%. By 1980, 8,000 stores per year were converting."
It's clear that barcoding of products is something that has greatly benefited both consumers and retailers!
Barcodes for retail products come in two different types: EAN and UPC. EAN numbers are 13 digits and UPC numbers are 12 digits. A UPC number can be converted to an EAN number. Nowadays it really doesn't matter if a barcode is UPC or EAN as barcode scanners pick up both kinds of numbers and both are used across the world. EAN numbers were originally designed to allow for more unique barcode numbers as the extra digit allows for an extra 10 times the amount of barcode numbers than is possible with UPC's 12 digits.
How do I get my product into a shop? - The summary
In a nutshell, to get your product into stores you need to do the following:
- Get a unique and valid barcode number from an authorized source.
- Print your barcode number onto barcode labels and stick these onto your product. Alternatively you could include your barcode image directly on the packaging of your product, which will then be able to be read by scanners after you've printed your packaging.
- Take a sample of your product along with it's respective barcode to your retailer and have them make sure your barcode scans. They will ask you to fill in a product information form, which details all the information about your product (including description, price, your company details etc).
- Once your barcode and product information has been registered and accepted by the retailer(s) you're all set and can start to sell!
1. Get a unique and valid barcode number:
All retail barcodes originate from the global organisation GS1-USA. GS1 manages, regulates and distributes barcodes internationally. They also make sure that barcode numbers are distributed to companies in such a way that there are no duplicate numbers. Duplicate numbers would be bad news, just imagine two products at a retailer having the same number, but each product being a completely different item with a different price. The whole scanning system would be confused! It's for this reason that one can't make up your own barcode number as certain checks and balances need to be in place to avoid any potential problems of the aforementioned type.
There are only two ways of getting your hands on unique and registered barcodes in South Africa, the first would be to purchase directly through GS1, however this option is usually reserved for larger companies, and the second option is to use an authorised local or international re-seller who can sell barcodes in smaller numbers (under 1000).
For more detailed information on the various options available for purchasing your barcodes, please see our page "Legitimate barcode seller and resellers in South Africa".
2. Printing your barcode numbers:
Once you have your unique barcode numbers the next step is to attach the codes to your product packaging so that your they can be scanned at retail stores. Once again you have two option available to you. The first is to print your barcode images directly onto your product packaging. This option is fairly simple, and ensures that you have full control over the look and feel of your packaging design. It is important to note, though, that the resolution of the printing needs to be above 400dpi and that the barcode is of a fair size and that the image is not impeded in any way.
The second is to print the barcodes onto adhesive stickers which can then be stuck to your product packaging at a convenient position. The benefit to stickers is that there are many companies around which specialise in the printing of barcode stickers. They will take care of the details with regards to print quality, dimensions and contrast ratios to ensure that you barcodes are scannable.
3. Approaching a retailer:
When your product is ready, the packaging is printed and your barcodes are affixed to the packaging, your are now ready to approach a retailer. You may have already conducted talks with them by this stage, but one final step needs to take place before you can start to stock the shelves. You will need to provide them with your product and business information and you will need register your barcodes on their inventory system.
This usually involves the filling out of a product information form, which contains your business information, the product description, ingredients list (if applicable) and the cost of the product. Your barcode number is entered onto this form, and you will get a chance to scan your sample product packaging to ensure that all is in order before you conduct your print run. It is advisable to check you sample barcodes with each retailer before printing, as some retailers may have specific barcoding requirements which may require special printing considerations.
4. Selling your products:
In the case of GS1 direct registrations, after your first year is up, you will need to pay an annual fee to GS1 in order to continue to use your barcodes. In the case of barcode resellers, the purchase price is usually once-off and covers your barcodes for the life of the product.