What have barcodes ever done for us?

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Today, we look at how GTINs – the numbers behind barcodes – have transformed the global economy through digitisation

On 31 March 1971, more than 50 years ago, a group of business leaders put aside their commercial differences and met up in New York City to revolutionise the grocery sector. Price stickers were no longer going to cut it, so they imagined something better that would save people time, money, and help to identify everything we buy.

And so, the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) was born!

You will most likely recognise the GTIN as the machine readable, black and white lines that make up barcodes. However, it is the number itself, which you can see sitting underneath the black and white lines, that is the GTIN. It is this little number that has revolutionised how we shop and continues to play a significant role in global commerce.

If fact, this technology has had such a significant impact on UK businesses, the BBC has labelled the GTIN’s global implementation as one of “the 50 things that made the world economy.”

“It is incredible to see the significant impact the GTIN has had on our global economy. In the UK we have also deployed the standard in healthcare to support initiatives like Scan4Safety, which continues to save the NHS millions of pounds and thousands of lives.
At GS1 UK we have collaboration as a core value and collaboration developed the GTIN; delivered supply chain resilience throughout COVID-19 and will bring innovation to on-pack labelling to meet consumer needs.
As we see more members than ever joining GS1 UK to trade direct to consumer it is important that their product data can be trusted to inform and protect the consumer. The GTIN is key to this whether online or in store and I look forward to seeing how in partnership with our members we can drive further innovation.”

– Anne Godfrey, CEO, GS1 UK

So, what has the GTIN ever done for us?

Back in 1971, the GTIN was created to boost the speed and efficiency of transactions and processes in food and retail supply chains, helping manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, and consumers. It was also designed to safeguard customers, ensuring that products possessing a GTIN were authentic and enabling traceability on the production of these goods.

However, as the global economy grew, so did the uses for the GTIN. Here are just five top retail trends supported by GTINs.

Past trends

  1. ePOS (electric point of sale) systems wouldn’t have been able to function without GTIN and barcode technology in place. These transformational till systems enabled retailers to generate detailed data reports, providing businesses with greater trading insight that could drive supply chain efficiencies and generate revenue.
  2. The 90’s saw a surge in ecommerce, with retail giants such as Amazon, eBay and Tesco reinventing how consumers shop, and continues to gain popularity, especially in the last year when in-person shopping was restricted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. To this day, retailers need assurance that they have access to accurate data and that the products they are selling are safe and legitimate for consumers, all of which the GTIN provides.
  3. Data-driven loyalty programmes, such as supermarket club cards, have also seen a huge rise in popularity over the last two decades. With retailers wanting to drive consumer loyalty through personalised offers driven from data and insights.
  4. Personalisation in retail has continued to evolve due to rising consumer demand for tailored products and shopping experiences. Consumers will pay a premium to stand out from the crowd and brands that can allow some form of personalisation whether product or service will win the hearts, minds and wallets of the consumer.
  5. Social media used to be for keeping up on events and news, but it has now become the retail channel of choice for start-up businesses to find and sell direct to their customers.
    But the role of the GTIN doesn’t stop there. As we start to see the democratisation of the supply chain, driven by consumer demand for convenience, and a greater emphasis on sustainability, the GTIN will continue to play an important role in global commerce.

5 future predictions for global retail

  1. Supply chain innovation will continue to expand, with technology becoming increasingly intuitive to our needs due to the rise of AI and gadgets. Deliveries will take place faster with the evolution of the last mile with drones and robots. There will be vertical integration with farms on same site as pack and dispatch.
  2. Digital printing will become smarter and increasingly utilised at every stage of buyer’s journeys, including 3D printing of hyper-personalised jewellery and even plant-based burgers.
  3. We will continue to see heightened personalisation in terms of products but also how the consumer purchases with brands needing to surface richer product data so consumers can make informed decisions to match their societal needs.
  4. The face of UK high streets will radically change, with shops acting as showrooms and deploying smart technology that removes the hassle from shopping. Virtual mirrors will replace changing rooms, the purchasing of virtual clothes to wear on social media or via Zoom calls and more stores like Amazon Go will be hitting our high streets.
  5. Sustainable sourcing will be a key focus in the future alongside the importance of wider ESG credentials. We can only ensure that products are sustainable through our ability to accurately trace their supply chain, i.e., from farm to fork for food products, and the GTIN will continue to play an important part in facilitating this. Capturing carbon impact and enabling consumers to discover the carbon footprint of a product will be accessed through 2D barcode technology.
Harness the power of GS1 standards for retail successIf GTINs are not already a part of your business processes, download the following ebook on how to “Harness the power of GS1 standards for retail success”. This handy guide provides practical information on exactly what a GTIN is, how it can help you to streamline and grow your business, why you need a GTIN for your ecommerce business and how to use them across major marketplaces, how to assign GTINs and barcodes to your physical products and how to get hold of GTINs from GS1 UK.


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