Advances in bar code technology make it the preferred method of AIDC in the retail industry.
The AIDC market has evolved, and even with the continuing discussion of RFID [radio frequency identification] technology, we see that the use of bar codes as a basic method of automatic identification is still growing strong around the globe.
In the bar code arena, traditionally the UPC/EAN [electronic article number] code remains as the dominant symbology adopted in the retail segment. 2-D bar codes were formerly used primarily in the industrial and manufacturing sectors. However, as retailers continue to identify new applications where the additional data capacity of 2-D bar codes provides an advantage, we will begin to see the widespread adoption of such bar codes in retail segments.
Many states have laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol and tobacco products to people under a certain age. Retailers must require that customers show their photo ID as proof of their age. In many places, photo IDs already have a 2-D bar code printed on them that includes date of birth information. If the retailer installs a front end scanner which can read 2-D codes, the information can be linked to the sale of restricted items.
We are also seeing a new opportunity for retailers, especially C-stores, to provide payment services for consumer utility bills. Processing these payments requires the encoding of more information. Some utilities adopted linear bar codes, but the low aspect ratio of these long labels makes them difficult to read. 2-D bar codes are a preferred symbology because the same information can be printed in a small and compact format. Therefore, we expect the requirement for 2-D bar codes in front end retailing to increase.
2-D Bar Codes Generate New Marketing Strategies
In Asia, there is an emerging technology that provides the ability to view 2-D bar codes on mobile phones. As mobile providers expand the availability of MMS [multimedia message services], consumers will be able to receive images via their phone, thus creating a new way to send encoded information. Mobile communication providers can send their monthly bill via an MMS 2-D image that includes the user information, as well as the amount due. Users can walk into a C-store or payment station, scan the 2-D bar code image on their phone, and process the payment transaction. This also creates a new opportunity for electronic promotion, such as discount coupons, membership benefit discounts, and movie tickets. This technology saves the vendors significant amounts in production and distribution of coupons and potentially creates an opportunity for more effective target marketing.
In addition to front end POS changes, we see a trend toward increasing the use of kiosks or self-service terminals in the retail segment. Traditionally, kiosks have been used for customer inquiries and information. However, we now see an emerging trend of kiosks as an interactive tool for providing self-service functions. There is an increased demand for integrating scanning devices into these kiosk/self-service stands. Shoppers can scan their ID, ticket, or 2-D bar code image from their cell phone as identification to receive services, make online bookings or reservations, or perform self-checkout functions within a store or mall.
The advent of imaging technology provides an easy transition for retailers who want to scan linear bar codes today, but are looking forward to adding 2-D bar codes to their retail operation. Array imaging technology is not just suited for handheld scanners, but also presentation scanners, and eventually it is expected to migrate into higher performance scanners, as well. This provides retailers with a logical migration path to follow when adopting new 2-D applications for improved customer satisfaction.