Choosing a barcode or price scanner for your small business
If you’re just getting into the world of barcoding, it can be a little overwhelming to look at all of the scanners that are available for use. This article breaks down the different form factors and types of scanners on the market, and discusses the best fit for your small business.
Once you’ve decided to invest in a barcode system, (and you really should!) one of the most important aspects of that system will be the type of price / barcode scanner you choose to use. We won’t dig into the really techy details of different systems right now (there are plenty of other articles on that), but this article will make the case for the type of of scanner to purchase for your small business’ needs.
Types of barcode scanner technology
There are four main technologies used for actually scanning and identifying barcodes:
1. Pen / wand barcode scanners
You won’t find these scanners in most smaller businesses because of the way they read barcodes. With a pen or wand you end up having to run the tip of the scanner over the whole length of the barcode, much like you would use a highlighter on a piece of paper. This means that these types of scanners actually take a little longer to use, especially for transactions with multiple products.
2. Stationary / embedded / in-counter price scanners
These types of scanners are more industrial or big-box retail oriented, and they’re usually lot more expensive as a result (with costs ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars). If you’re just starting your small business your wallet will hurt when you think about these, but they’re good to at least have on your radar. They won’t help you with a manual count of your warehouse inventory, but they are the scanners to beat when it comes to checkout speed at grocery stores or businesses that sell a lot of smaller items.
3. Handheld (pistol-grip) barcode scanners
CCD, linear image scanners, and laser scanners are three different types of technologies, but they all read basic barcodes. CCD scanners are short-range, Lasers are probably the most common type and can have much longer ranges (enough to reach the top of a warehouse shelf), and linear image scanners actually take pictures of barcodes and analyze them (for better accuracy).
You’ve probably seen a lot of handheld price scanners in business both big and small because they’re fast enough to scan a lot of items quickly at checkout, but they’re also maneuverable enough that you can also scan larger items that may not fit on a business counter. These are the scanners most small businesses should probably start out with, since you can usually pick up a single price scanner for under $100 (although prices can definitely go much higher).
Wired vs. wireless barcode scanners
Aside from the type of scanning technology, another important factor in purchasing a scanner is deciding on whether you’d like a wired or wireless. For the purposes of this article, we’ll limit our scope to handheld scanners.
Wireless scanners can seem like the new hotness and the obvious superior option to wired scanners because they help keep your setup leaner and cleaner. A lack of wires means fewer things to get tangled, and more flexibility at your checkout area or warehouse. However, With Wireless Capability comes Great Responsibility. Well, at least a little extra responsibility.
Wireless scanners will need batteries (often several to maintain a good up time), so that is a bit of added investment and complication. The other factor to consider is that wireless technology can be fallible. Wireless scanners communicate over specific frequencies (usually 2.4 GHz) using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and these signals can be interrupted if you are too far from the receiver, or if there are too many objects between you and the receiver. If you really need the advantages of a wireless system, it’s smart to do a test run with a single unit to see how it performs at your actual office or warehouse.
If you don’t need the extra flexibility that a wireless system provides, a wired barcode scanner can bethe more affordable and reliable option. Older scanners may use the Serial port on your computer, so you’ll require two cables for them: one for communicating with the computer, and another to supply power. However, if you use a “keyboard wedge” scanner (which uses the PS/2 port) or a USB scanner, you’ll only require a single cable for both power and data.
Although you will have to deal with cable management, wired scanners have a 100% uptime and you won’t have to worry about any extra complications while you work: as long as the cable is plugged in, you’re all set. We sell our own durable and colorful USB scanners at inFlowShop.com, but you can also find a very wide selection at sites like BarcodeInc.com or Amazon.
Whichever scanner you decide to choose, think of the cost of the hardware as an investment in your own business’ efficiency. You’ll be saving yourself time and effort with each and every scan, and all of those seconds will add up over the coming days, weeks, and months.