Barcoding 101

Posted by Matthew Kostanecki

Barcoding your business is easy! This article will show you how to set up a complete barcoding system by printing your own barcodes and using scanners.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a business with stocked products that wouldn’t benefit from a barcode system today. Yet there are still quite a surprising number of businesses that aren’t benefiting from the convenience and accuracy afforded by barcodes, simply because they still operate on pen and paper or Microsoft Excel templates.

The most common objection is that a barcode system might be too expensive or difficult to implement.

Well here’s something a lot of people don’t know: not only is it actually inexpensive to set up a barcode system, it can be quite easy to implement, too! Depending on your needs, a few hundred dollars could set you up with a complete system.

Why would you care about barcoding? Well, in a nutshell, it allows you to run your small business more accurately and efficiently, getting you ready for growth. You’ll look more professional too! Especially if you run a store and scan scan items at your checkout.

Let’s discuss these things in a bit more detail.

Barcoding will increase your inventory accuracy

Setting up a barcode system can dramatically increases your inventory accuracy. Having barcodes on your items makes them instantly readable to a computer paired with a scanner. It lets your computer do all the heavy lifting for you!

While computers aren’t perfect, they are significantly more accurate than any human ever could be. There are studies showing that even the best trained data-entry person will make at least one mistake every 250 keystrokes.

On the other hand, scanning barcodes with a computer has an error rate of one in every 5,000 to 36 trillion characters scanned.

We’d want those odds in our favor. Wouldn’t you?

Save time and increase your efficiency

Using barcodes allows you to process your inventory much faster than any other manual method. Think of the length of most universal product codes (UPCs), which are 12 characters or more. You could type those numbers into your system, or you could activate a scanner with one press of your finger and have the computer do the typing for you.

All of those saved keystrokes add up to a surprising amount of extra time for you to do other things for your business!

Grow your business easily

Sure, you might have just a few products now, but what happens when your inventory starts growing? By integrating a barcode system sooner rather than later, you’re building scalability into your business.

Scalability means the barcode system will work the same, regardless of whether you have one item, 100 items, or 10,000 items. A barcode system will help your company avoid growing pains as you add more products.

Having a system in place also makes training new members of your team much easier. Instead of memorizing products and product descriptions to look up items, your new team member can easily scan the product in and have the computer bring up the relevant product details.

Look professional

A good barcode system has a two-fold advantage: it increases your own inventory accuracy, and it also dramatically decreases the time a customer spends at checkout. A customer will have a better first impression if you can quickly and easily process their purchase using a scanner system, as opposed to waiting while you manually type codes into a system at checkout.

How do I set up a complete barcoding system?

You can set up a complete barcoding system with just three items:

If you’d like a complete overview of setting everything up, you can download our ebook entitled “Barcode Your Small Business”. The book will walk you through the entire process in details. For now, you can continue on to get an overview:

Generate your barcodes

In its simplest form, a barcode is just a picture that represents numbers, text, or both. This picture can be read by a scanning device and the information is almost instantly transmitted to a computer.

You have two main options when it comes to setting up your small business items with barcodes. You can either make your own barcodes using a barcode font (or web service like the one from ID Automation) or buy existing barcodes from a universal database such as UPCs.

If you’re going to just be using the barcode system internally, then you can pretty much use any barcode type. The most common is named Code 3 of 9. You can generate Code 3 of 9 barcodes by using an online barcode generator or even by using a barcode font. You can print these on standard label stickers, stick them on your product and you’re all set!

If you’re a manufacturer and you want your products to be sold on Amazon or any big retailers, then you’ll want to get UPCs. You can buy UPCs from a reseller or directly from the source, GS1.

Get yourself a barcode scanner

The next step is to get a barcode scanner. You’d typically want one that connects over USB for simplicity’s sake. You’ll find them in wired and wireless options ranging from $50–100. To learn more about scanners in general, click here.

We also make a USB barcode scanner that you can purchase on www.inflowshop.com. Our scanners come with a two year guarantee and are available in seven unique colours.

Get software to make sense of it all

One of the most common misconceptions when trying to implement a barcode system is that people think a simple barcode contains all the product’s data.

For example, some people think that when you scan a barcode, all the relevant data should instantly appear on screen. Unfortunately, this not the case (unless you’re using super specialized barcodes and scanners that are outside the small business realm).

A barcode typically represents a simple alphanumeric code and the software on your computer is what will link that simple code to a product record. For this to work, all your product details do have to be saved somewhere on your computer in advance. This is true for most major retailers (even when using “universal” product codes, the product information has to be pre-loaded into a database).

Of course you can still scan a barcode into a computer without software, it will just produce the code that you assigned it. However, scanning a barcode into inventory software such as inFlow inventory, will mean it will bring up that specific product record when say, making a sale, or looking up an item.

Now it’s your turn!

Now that you know all the components of a barcode system, why not give it a try for free with inFlow Inventory? You can download it here and activate a free 30 day trial.

Have a question or comment? Let us know below!