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 an alphanumeric code and the software on your computer is what will link that 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, but it will just type out a jumble of numbers and letters. However, scanning a barcode into inventory software such as inFlow Cloud will bring up that specific product record while you’re making a sale or looking up a product.

inFlow ties your barcodes straight to your products

Try inFlow Cloud free

No credit card required. Sign up now!

Matthew Kostanecki

About Matthew Kostanecki

Matthew Kostanecki is speaker, author, and active contributor to the small business community. He leads the marketing and business development for inFlow Inventory.

Have a question or comment? Let us know below!

    1. I would buy a Dymo barcode printer which comes with software to make barcodes. It’s super easy!
      Otherwise, you can download a free barcode font such as our Archon 3 of 9 font and buy printer labels to make barocdes.

  1. How it’s work for business I have just started my leather goods business need to get information about bar code

  2. We have small business in door locks. We need bar-code scanner to put details in our system, with software. We want to know what we have in stock and which items are near to finish, how many we sold.

  3. I just want to get some emails from you so I have a copy for when I am ready to down load your kindle book, does it work if you don’t have a kindle?

  4. hi. I work for a cabinetmaking company. Im just wondering if a bar code system would work for us as in ordering products in and keeping tabs on stock we have? One problem is the orders are sometimes wrong because the wrong product was ordered by our office staff who have no idea what product we were wanting. and also we frequently run low on stock..

  5. Hi we run sandwich vans and would like to be able to count stock out add up payments for goods for the driver by scanning barcodes on labels count returns and get daily takings total what do think we will need to get this done and how much do you thinkj it will cost

    1. Hi John, inFlow Cloud could help with this if you treat each van as a location in the system. You could then transfer stock from the main warehouse to each van at the beginning of the day, and during the day they’d just record what they sell.
      When each van returns, you can create a sales order for each van, and use a barcode scanner to quickly add items that were sold. This link can show you how to add barcodes to each product in inFlow: https://www.inflowinventory.com/support/cloud/how-do-i-use-a-barcode-scanner-with-inflow/

      If you’d like to try this out, you can start a free Cloud trial here: https://app.inflowinventory.com/signup
      If you have any other questions about inFlow, you can reach out to support@inflowinventory.com, and we’d be happy to help!

  6. Can the barcode scanner scan alphanumeric codes already printed on stickers from an excel template? Or it must have to be printed by a barcode printer?

    1. Good question, sorry for the late reply. But I’m adding this in case it helps someone else down the line.
      Basically, as long as the barcodes are printed and are readable by the scanner, then you’re fine. They don’t need a “barcode printer” specifically to be legible.
      Most scanners are fine with varieties of glossy and non-glossy paper, but not all scanners are able to read computer monitors or phone screens.

      – Thomas

  7. If I have an excel sheet with 2000 items, how can I generate a bar code for all items in easy way?

  8. Hi,
    I want to create a bar code inventory system for my small business (selling piece items).
    My entire inventory will consist of apx 125 products.
    I plan to create bins for storage of like items.
    Bar Code each bin (containing 25 items) and sell from the bins.
    Need computer connectivity for inventory control.

  9. Hi , I am just starting my new venture of female garments manufacturing and whole sale , I want to maintain my stock out going ,incoming , and billing and other relevant issues through barcode and all in one software please suggest me what is the procedure and why cost is involve for this
    If u can give me any contact persons no from kolkata will be very help full for me and also what machinery is required

    1. Hi Arjit, it sounds like inFlow Cloud could help you with this. Our software doesn’t handle actual payments (it doesn’t connect to bank accounts), but we do handle stock in/stock out, as well as purchase/sales orders. This video can give you a good overview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gp3bHTdlT9Y

      But if you have other questions, our support team (support@inflowinventory.com) would be happy to help!

  10. HI
    I WORK FOR A AUTO SPARES COMPANY. SOME ITEMS COME WITH BAR CODES AND SOME DONT. WE HAVE NO CONTROL OF STOCK GOING IN OR OUT. I WAND TO START TRACKING STOCK BY IMPLEMENTING A BAR CODE SYSTEM AND SINCE THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF ITEMS I DONT KNOW HOW TO START.
    WE ARE USING A SOFTWARE CALLED QUICK BOOKS.ALSO MANAGEMENT DOES NOT WANT TO INVEST MONEYS. I AM EMPLOYED TO DO THEIR BOOKS’
    I HAVE TO DO THIS ON MY OWN EX PENCE. PLEASE HELP
    PL

    1. Hi Lesley,

      if you’re not quite sure where to start with barcoding, I’d suggest having a look at our blog post on creating your own barcodes: https://www.inflowinventory.com/blog/create-your-own-barcodes/
      That post outlines how you can create official barcodes for use in other stores, or how you can create your own set of barcodes, print them, and then attach them to your products for easier inventory tracking. We also outline scanners and a barcode printer to use.

  11. I have a liquidation business. We manually record everything from inbound shipments to sales out the door. We currently have over 1000 different items in stock. We get new inventory every week, typically 200 to 700 items. Of which, a majority of items are something we don’t currently have in stock, and a majority we have never had in stock. Meaning, what we have now we may not get again and what we get next week we probably have not had before.

    Everything we receive inbound is manifested on an excel spreadsheet. We print the manifest and manually check them off once they are taken off a pallet. It’s a simple process that can take anywhere from a few seconds to find on our manifest, to a few minutes. From there. At the end of the day, we use the manifest to manually type these items into our website. I must rely on my knowledge of the current inventory to know if it’s something we currently have in stock. This has obvious issues as duplicate tens could possibly be entered twice. Rarely does that happen, but it forces me to be very hands on where my time could be spent growing the business. If it’s something we do have, we simply change the quantity, takes a few seconds, maybe 10 to 15 total. If it’s a new product, we have to manually type or copy and paste the product to a google search, find the picture and enter all relevant info. Process takes about 2 minuntes per item. Once a sale is made, we manually write down what is sold. At the end of the day, into our website to remove the inventory. Takes around 30 seconds per item. The three biggest negatives are the lack of real time updates to my inventory, the opportunity for wrong item to be removed, and the time I spend st the end of the day updating sales from my inventory.

    I need to become automated and more efficient without creating extra work or labor cost. Is this possible with my type of business?

    1. Hi Tim,

      Thanks for sharing your process here! I think this kind of comment can be really helpful to other readers, as well.

      Regarding receiving items: our purchase orders (POs) can hold the amount that you’re expecting on an order, and adding items to the Receive tab of a PO will instantly update your inventory. The nice thing is that you can add items by typing part of the name out, or by scanning their barcode into inFlow. As long as the data is entered properly into inFlow, your inventory will be up to date after a delivery.

      As for the website, inFlow On-Premise could help if your online store is on Shopify (unfortunately we don’t have other e-commerce integrations at this time).
      Our Shopify integration can automatically create sales orders in inFlow that correspond to sales on Shopify, and automatically deduct stock from inFlow (if you set that up). To learn more about this integration, please see our support article: https://www.inflowinventory.com/support/article/96279308/how-to-integrate-shopify-with-inflow/.

      If you’ve got any questions about inFlow, our support team would be happy to help you out: https://www.inflowinventory.com/software-contact-info
      Or if you’d just like to try inFlow On-Premise for yourself, you can do so straight from here: https://www.inflowinventory.com/software-download

    1. Hi Vannesa,

      We offer two products that could help, and both can help to manage inventory for a flower shop. They can both handle things like sales orders, stock adjustments, and buying more flowers and supplies for the shop.

      inFlow Cloud is the right choice if you want to access your data from any Windows PC (even at home). It stores your data in the cloud, and that’s also useful if you expand to multiple stores and want to use a single program to track all of them: https://www.inflowinventory.com/cloud

      But if you only need to track your inventory at one store, I’d suggest inFlow On-Premise. It stores all your data locally, and it’s a one-time purchase for the program: https://www.inflowinventory.com/software-pricing

  12. I run a non profit little league Football organization, We have about 200 Helmets and shoulder pads. I think this would be beneficial for us. But is user friendly for someone not real computer savy. And the all important question how much would something like this cost.

    1. Hi Jerry,

      We have a number of customers who work at organizations like university clubs and libraries that use inFlow to track their local inventory (so you don’t *need* to be a small business for inFlow to be handy).
      As for computer savviness: we consider our ease-of-use to be one of our primary features, but if you have any questions, the fastest way to reach our support team is the live chat on our website: https://www.inflowinventory.com/ (in the lower right corner).

      For cost, we keep all our inFlow Cloud plan pricing here: https://www.inflowinventory.com/cloud
      We’ve got a handy calculator built into that page so that you can see how much inFlow would cost per month, based on how many users would need it.

  13. do you supply a barcoding system compatible with JDE enterprise ?
    if so what are the costs to get scanners and system for processing.

    1. Hi Meihana,

      Our barcoding support is not proprietary, so you can use it with most any wired or wireless USB scanner. As long as the barcode scanner sends inputs to the PC, it can work with inFlow.

      As for inFlow Cloud’s pricing, you can find our starting prices for the Essentials and Advanced plans here: https://www.inflowinventory.com/cloud?#pricing

    1. Hi Juanje,

      inFlow itself doesn’t need to support barcode fonts. What inFlow does is store the barcodes as plain text, so if you scanned a UPC into inFlow’s barcode field, you’d see 12 digits entered into the field.

      Where barcode fonts come in handy is when you’re printing out an existing barcode in an app like Microsoft Word or Excel. We have our own CODE39 barcode font available here, for free: https://www.inflowinventory.com/blog/code-39-font-archon-free-barcode/

  14. I work in Medical Storage and are looking to implement the bar code system to assist us in checking equipment in and out and what unit the equipment went to. Is this something you can help us with?

  15. My organization would like to put barcodes on our bills that are generated and mailed to customers. We have a kiosk with a scanner but no way to put barcodes on the bills that will populate the customer’s account number and their address.

    1. Hi Shani! In this case you’d need software that could interpret a barcode printed on the bill and tie that to a customer ID. I’m afraid inFlow does not have this feature right now, but I’ve passed that feedback along to our developers for consideration in the future.

      I don’t know of other small business software that has this feature, but I think it might be something that’s supported in SAP.

  16. The information was good, however, I have an additional question.
    Would bar coding be feasible with a non-profit raising $$$ for an arts organization through selling merchandise at boutiques several times a year, i.e. at specific arts events?

    1. Hi Cheryl, good question. Barcoding doesn’t have to be only in for-profit entities. I’d think of it as a time-saver instead.

      It’s useful for increasing the accuracy for when you stock in/stock out items, and also for speeding things up when you have a lot of transactions to process in a short period of time. It’s faster to scan codes than it is to type out item names and confirm they’re correct.

      It’s especially useful if the merchandise you sell is the same at each event. That way you can print large batches of barcodes and stick them onto your products, without having to change them for each event.

  17. Does each piece of inventory require it’s own bar code number? For example if we have 10 sizes of the same article of clothing in the same color, does that bar code number have to be a different number?

    1. Hi Dom, yes, in that case the barcodes would differ for each colour, even if the only difference is one or two digits. Those differences are what systems like inFlow would use to differentiate the products.

  18. I am purchasing a Meat Packing Company where we receive meat products in various forms including complete sides of beef, to large sections of meats that need to be cut in to smaller pieces to meats that are processed, smoked and sold in smaller packages such as brisket and jerky.

    We are looking for a barcode system that will allow us to weigh our product when received, track it through our processing system, place it in inventory once complete, then remove it from inventory using QuickBooks software once it is sold at the register of through invoicing to a wholesale customer in large quantities. We look to be up and running by the end of August and would like to have a system in place as ASAP.

    Do you have such a system that might work for us ?

    Thanks in advance

    1. Hi Bobby, thanks for getting in touch! All our inFlow software supports barcoding, and inFlow Cloud does sync your invoices to QuickBooks Online.

      As long long as your products are barcoded, you can scan them during receiving, picking, and shipping to keep inventory counts accurate.

      We don’t offer a weigh-in feature during receiving, but you can record the weight of a particular amount of product in the Quantity field (so you could say you got 40.7 lbs. of Brisket and 5 lbs. of jerky), so you can still track products by various quantities and weights.

      If you’d like a general overview, I’d recommend our new brand video here: https://youtu.be/x70A2JV1j64.
      Or you can sign up for a free trial at our website: inflowinventory.com

  19. We are a small charter school needing to create a Check in/out system for computers. We have a VERY limited budget (meaning Free) wondering if you could offer any insight for best software to use with a barcode scanner

    1. Hi Amanda, we do have educational discounts for inFlow Cloud, but no free plans, I’m afraid.
      However, we do have a Free Edition of inFlow On-Premise. That’s completely free to use with no time limit, but it does have a maximum of 100 products + customers. If you reach that limit, you’d need to purchase a license.

      If you’d like to try On-Premise, you can do so from this link: https://www.inflowinventory.com/inflow-onpremise