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What’s Next After the Barcode?

shutterstock_202514293Recently, I came across this article about how the barcode is slowly becoming obsolete. It’s a technology as ubiquitous as the air we breathe. On June 26, 1974, at 8:01 a.m., Sharon Buchanan used a barcode to ring up a 10-pack of Juicy Fruit at the Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio. And then the world of commerce changed forever. That pack of gum now sits in the Smithsonian Museum.

As technology goes, the barcode actually deserves some credit for holding its ground this long. Given the pace at which technology standards keep switching on us, the barcode has been impressively consistent in its relevance. The article mentioned above begs the need for a new standard specifically for the food industry. But the idea is applicable anywhere. Consumers want to know more about where their food comes from. For instance, while buying a steak, it may be important for someone to know what precise geographic area the meat came from, when it was packed, ethical standards, allergen information, etc. This would be combined with data on price, stock, brand, batch number etc. The barcode as a technology is incapable of carrying so much information. The QR code solves some of these capacity issues.

Now, when it comes to commerce, the challenge also has to do with the UPC – a specific type of barcode and the heartbeat of all commerce. The UPC code was designed by IBM engineer George Laurer, who was assigned with the task of developing a universal code to help grocery stores, and that could be used across different industries. It is a 12 digit code that holds information uniquely connected to the specific product and manufacturer. However, the U in Universal Product Code is a little misleading. Because it’s not really a required universal standard or a global identifier.

What can replace the UPC/barcode?

Right now, commerce is at a point where product information is ubiquitous and easily available to all consumers, if they so wish to seek it out. Shopping is becoming increasingly consumer-centric. As we’ve seen above, consumers want to know more. Wouldn’t it be oh-so-awesome to have one universal identifier that would contain all relevant information about a product like its price and availability across stores, features, specifications, what have you. In the future, this identifier could also include reviews, social sentiment and such. Everything about a product in one place – like a Product GPS.

At Indix, we are envisioning a Product Intelligence system as robust and powerful as GPS coordinates for a physical location – a technology that has changed our lives in myriad ways. The power of Product Data Science will enable us to generate a unique identifier for each and every product in the world. One day, like a fingerprint, each product in the world will have a unique identifier that surpasses the limitations of today’s UPC. All of the product information mentioned above would be accessible through this one, unique ID. It would be attached to the physical as well as digital manifestation of any product.

When every product in the world is assigned a unique ID, all of the rich information associated with it will sit in one database, and every service offering product information will access it from this one place, ensuring a consistent view to the end user, every time. Consumers and shoppers will use this ID to buy with more confidence and retailers will be able to manage inventory, prices and other variables more efficiently. Are you as excited about this as I am?

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