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QR Codes vs Barcodes for Inventory Management

Posted by Olivia Barnes-BrettLast Updated January 2nd, 2023
— 6 minutes reading

Inventory management helps businesses take control in a way that suits them. Putting the right system in place can seem like a big task, but using barcodes and QR codes in stock control is easier than you might think. We take a look at QR codes vs barcodes for inventory management, and what each really means.

Why inventory management matters 

Before deciding whether to use traditional barcodes or QR codes, it’s important to decide what you want your business to achieve. To do that, we need to think about why good inventory management matters.

Inventory systems can be complex. There are a lot of stages and moving parts involved that influence your business. This includes how much stock you purchase, store and sell, and where and when that happens. 

Let’s take a look at what could happen without managing this process well. Imagine an input error leads a clothing retailer to order a shipment of the wrong sweater. There may not be any immediate financial impacts. 

However, soon after, another product, let’s say a pair of sneakers, suddenly sells out. Ideally, the retailer would order a larger shipment of the sneakers next time to avoid disappointed customers. Unfortunately, there are still too many boxes of sweaters in the warehouse and no space for the extra stock.

So, the retailer loses out on sneaker sales and the extra boxes start to become damaged as they are continually moved to try and create more space. This has cost time, money, and customer loyalty, all of which could have been avoided with good inventory management.

Benefits of inventory management include: better visibility, saving, time, low storage fees, preventing stock outs, and improved cash flow.

What does inventory management do?

Inventory management can help businesses by controlling various stages. As IBM explains, “the goal of inventory management is to have the right products in the right place at the right time”. It’s also important to have the right amount of products, from the right sources.

This also helps your business make informed, real-time decisions and forecasts based on inventory facts.

How are barcodes used for stock?

The word barcode is often used as a catch-all phrase. In reality, it refers to the black and white lines or squares that we scan. On a traditional, one-dimensional barcode, these lines are a machine-readable representation of the number that appears underneath (sometimes called GTIN).

Assigning a barcode and number to a product means it can quickly be scanned for any number of reasons, including accurately:

  • checking stock
  • receiving an item into inventory
  • adjusting stock
  • picking products
  • looking up orders
  • transferring stock from one location to another
Barcode uses include: transferring stock, adjusting stock, checking stock, receiving items, looking up orders, and picking products.

This can save time and reduce errors as employees move away from manual data entry. It also means that you can scale up your inventory operations as your business grows, without changing your system.

Companies can choose to generate their own barcodes or go through GS1 which provides standard barcode numbers for international use. These can then be scanned with a phone or scanner through barcode software like inFlow

1D barcode vs QR code

As you look into using barcodes for inventory management, chances are you’ll come across the term 1D barcode, 2D barcode, and the well-known QR code. So, what’s the difference between QR codes vs barcodes for inventory management?

One-dimensional (1D) barcodes are the ones we’re used to seeing on all manner of products. They have vertical black lines and spaces and can usually only encode a small number of numeric characters. This means the amount of information they hold is limited.

On the other hand, two-dimensional (2D) barcodes are more versatile. QR (quick response) codes are a type of 2D barcode. They have a more intricate pattern of black and white squares that allows them to hold a wider range and greater amount of data. This means they can point someone to a website or other source of information. They can also be scanned from more than one direction.  

QR codes vs barcodes for inventory management

QR codes: a quick history

QR codes might have become very popular in the last few years, but they’ve been around for longer than you might think. In fact, they were invented to solve an inventory problem. 

Over two decades ago, Japanese company Denso was faced with difficulties in managing their expanding range of automobile parts. Engineer Hara Masahiro was on his lunch break, playing his usual game of Go when he was struck with an idea.

As reported in Nippon, he explained “one day, while arranging the black and white pieces on the grid, it hit me that it represented a straightforward way of conveying information. It was a eureka moment.” The technology was then developed and has now spread around the world.

Today, QR codes are used in everything from inventory to tracing people who have come into contact with Covid-19 thanks to the extra information they hold.

In fact, a UK and US survey from September 2020 showed that 37.7% of respondents had scanned a QR in a restaurant, bar, or café, in the previous six months. Meanwhile, 37.3% had scanned one at a retailer, and 31.8% on a consumer product. 

QR code vs barcode for inventory management

Before starting to use a barcode system, it’s a good idea to decide which type of barcodes suit your business best.

1D barcodes can hold basic information and are highly useful for inventory control. However, QR codes can hold more information about a product, such as URLs, dimensions, location, price points, and information about the manufacturer. They can also be scanned from any direction, which can make them quicker to work with.

What’s more, QR codes have a level of error correction that means they may still be readable if there is slight damage or wear and tear.

When contemplating QR codes vs barcodes for inventory management you’ll need to take software into consideration. With the right app, both QR codes and 1D barcodes can be scanned via a smartphone or scanner. So, small businesses aren’t limited by the equipment they have on hand when choosing the type of barcode that works for them.

QR codes vs barcodes for inventory management

The future of barcodes

It’s also a good idea to look at what’s to come. The organization GS1, a neutral provider of standards in various industries, sees the future in 2D barcodes.

They have launched a program called Sunrise 2027, which aims to help businesses transition fully to using 2D barcodes at retailer point-of-sale by that year. They explain that “2D barcodes allow for a single, standardized way to meet both supply chain needs and evolving consumer requirements.”

Getting started with barcodes

If you want to learn more about barcoding your small business you can checkout our Ultimate Barcoding Guide. It covers everything, and we mean EVERYTHING you need to know about getting started with barcodes.

Whichever type of barcode you decide to use, software such as inFlow can help you put your new system in place quickly and easily. With our software, you can print and scan 1D barcodes and QR codes straight from your phone or scanner. We can also help you generate 1D barcodes.

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