The barcode celebrates its 50th anniversary, before its gradual replacement by the QR Code

Happy birthday to the barcode

The barcode celebrates its 50th anniversary, before its gradual replacement by the QR Code

Happy birthday to the barcode... The famous identification system for commercial goods, a major contributor to the globalization of trade, celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023, before being gradually replaced by another identification system, the QR code, richer in information.

"Beep!": For customers such as checkout hosts and hostesses, the barcode is now a sound. Every day around the world, these vertical lines of varying thicknesses are scanned 6 billion times. 70,000 products passing through checkouts every second.

Another dizzying statistic: a medium-sized French brand like System U (4th distributor in France with 11.6% market share and nearly 1,700 stores) indicated that it recorded 523 million checkouts in 2022.

Inventory management, transport, traceability ... The barcode, a real "product identity document", "also allows professionals in the store to have access to other functionalities", explains Laurence Vallana to AFP , France Director of SES-Imagotag, a company specializing in electronic labeling.

Although the barcode was initially patented by the Americans Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver in 1952, it was only really perfected and marketed from 1971 under the leadership of the American engineer George Laurer.

And on April 3, 1973, the barcode became, after consultation between large manufacturers and distributors, the system used to identify the consumer products that they were going to exchange in the decades to come. It will then be known as EAN-13 for "European Article Number" and 13 as the number of digits it has.

The first item to be barcoded on June 26, 1974 in Ohio was a package of fruit gum, now on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington.

It is today the Global Standard 1 (GS1) organization - "neutral and non-profit", and strong of two million member companies, including 53,000 in France - which is responsible for the standardization at the global level of the product identification.

It delivers for each product of each company that requests it, from Coca-Cola to a cheese producer, a unique identification code, the "global trade item number", which will then be translated into a barcode. Each company must pay a contribution correlated to its turnover, from 98 euros to 4,400 euros per year.

And a small revolution is taking shape, explained to AFP Renaud de Barbuat and Didier Veloso, respectively CEO of GS1 World and president of GS1 France: by 2027, the barcode will indeed "bow out" and "leave room for the new standard developed by the organization" in the form of QR Code.

If the barcode has reminded certain artists, critics of overconsumption or globalization, of the bars of a prison, the appearance of the QR Code may recall the game of go: it is this game of Chinese origin that , with its combinations of black and white dots arranged on a square, inspired its creator in 1994, the Japanese Masahiro Hara.

QR Code stands for Quick Response Code and its advantage over barcodes is that it can incorporate much more information, eg product composition, essential for recycling.

Its assets: "capturing more product information, sharing an infinity of digital content", or "creating new uses accessible to all, in particular to consumers", summarizes GS1. Some brands already add these codes to their products, allowing customers to find out more about their manufacture or their characteristics.

This gesture was largely democratized at the time of the Covid-19 epidemic.

Like the barcode before it, the QR Code was quickly diverted from its economic use, used by artists, as on the cover of the album "V" by French rapper Vald, or recently deployed as a banner in a gallery of stadium by the ultra supporters of Paris Saint-Germain...

Applied to consumer products, GS1 believes that the QR Code will be "a great tool for developing the circular economy", including recycling, reuse and re-use.

Those who are nostalgic for barcodes can rest assured: "the 13 small digits to identify a product will remain", indicates GS1. The transition will be smooth.

04/01/2023 08:21:17 -         Paris (AFP) -         © 2023 AFP