Cash register barcode scanner is a revolution
Beep! Beep! Beep! That oh so familiar sound from the cash register barcode scanner. It takes me right back to my first ever paid job on a supermarket checkout. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the groceries and scan them through that scanner.
Things have moved on considerably since then when the cashier had to move all items over the scanner. Today, we can scan our own shopping with a wireless barcode scanner or a USB hand scanner. In fact, I’m not sure what we would do without the fantastic invention. So, who thought it up? And how do the little zebra-striped things work anyway?
Barcodes are everywhere. These days, they’re on pretty much every grocery item in the store. Well, perhaps not directly on loose fruits and vegetables. However, many supermarkets have a ‘weigh and print’ barcode sticker maker by them. Barcodes are fantastic because they allow a shop owner to keep a track of everything that people buy. It is then easy to know how much to charge the customer and know when stock is running low. It also lets shop owners know if someone has stolen if they are fewer than there should be on the shelf when they do a stock take. Not only that, barcodes allow shops to change prices whenever they want, without replacing those little sticky labels that we all used to see.
Barcodes were first thought up by Bernard Silver and Norman Joseph Woodland and were patented in the USA as far back as 1952. It was initially based on the same idea as Morse code but extended to thick and thin bars. It still took another twenty years until it became a commercially successful idea. The very first scanning of a real barcode was on a packet of Wrigley’s chewing gum in 1974.
How Do Barcodes Work?
The barcode essentially represents numbers 0-9. You may wonder why we don’t just scan actual numbers themselves. This would actually lead to much more confusion because of the ambiguous nature of some fonts and if there’s a slight misprint of a number as well as the fact they can be misinterpreted upside down. Barcodes solve all these problems.
Barcodes are simple in their structure and have three parts to them. The first section lets the computer know the country of issue. The second part is the manufacturer’s code and the last section identifies what the product is, even multipacks of the same item have different last parts. They’re also accompanied by the number strip in case the barcode is damaged and can’t be scanned.
Barcodes would be useless if we didn’t have barcode scanners. There are many different types of barcode scanner. In most stores you could find a: cash register barcode scanner, wireless barcode scanner, 2D wireless barcode scanner, USB hand scanner, and even a scanner with Wi-Fi. The barcode scanner feeds information to a checkout terminal or a computer, which identifies the product straight away from the product database.
Types of Barcode Scanners
Depending on the store, you can find different types of barcode scanner. There are some simple handheld ones that are rather like a barcode-reading magic wand or over-sized razor. The wand shines LED red light onto the barcode black and white strip and reads it with a light-sensitive string of cells. Some can be like pen scanners that have to be run across the barcode as if you were drawing a line with a marker.
A store might have a couple of different types of barcode scanner. In busy megastores, you are more likely to find a wide variety of sophisticated scanners. They may have a USB hand scanner or a 2D wireless barcode scanner for bulky items that can’t be put on a checkout or conveyor belt as well as the regular cash register barcode scanner. Some stores have a scanner with Wi-Fi that you take with you around the store to ‘scan as you shop’. Your items are then sent to the checkout wirelessly so that you can pay for your items. Some stores are even introducing smartphone apps that take a photo of the barcode in the same way that a 2D wireless barcode scanner would so that you can do your scanning as you shop to save you time at the checkout.
However, interestingly, the most frequently found barcode scanner is not a wireless barcode scanner at all. Most stores have a corded handheld scanner at their checkout, with some sources saying that as many 96% of stores use one of these!
The Future of Barcode Scanning
With most stores currently using corded barcode scanners, it would not be surprising to hypothesize that, in the future, more stores will begin to use a 2D wireless scanner with Wi-Fi instead. Having said that, the cash register barcode scanner that’s inbuilt into the checkout are by far the most sophisticated and the quickest and, as such, they will obviously remain prolific in the stores too.
Many stores are starting to use QR codes too on their products to offer more information and even things like recipe ideas that you could make with the item. QR codes are most definitely becoming huge in the consumer society that we now live in. They can allow companies to not only give information virtually but also allow them to advertise additional products. It is not unreasonable to expect that QR will become a bigger part of the shopping experience too. The same goes for augmented and virtual reality.
Picture the scene: you pick up an item and scan the QR code on the packet. This then gives you a recipe idea. Then, augmented reality maps guide you to the location of the other items within the store. This allows you to find all the items you need for your meal easily and effortlessly. It sounds like science fiction, but we’ve come a long way from the first barcode scanners in the 1970s, so we can expect that this market will also explode. One thing’s for sure, you can expect to hear that reassuring ‘beep beep beep’ for years to come.