Friday, May 13, 2011

A Savvy Lesson: The GS1 DataBar Revolution and UPC Barcodes - The New Coupons

Did you know the 1st bar code was developed to mimic morse code?  In 1949, Joseph Woodland was intrigued by the idea of capturing product information at grocery check out lines. One day, while at the beach, he realized that if dots and dashes could be used to send information electronically through Morse Code, there should a way to capture information on grocery products. "Woodland drew dots and dashes in the sand to simulate Morse Code, and then extended them downward with his fingers. What appeared were thin lines resulting from the dots and thick lines from the dashes - a two - dimensional Morse Code – and the beginnings of the bars and spaces that make up today’s U.P.C. barcode."

 The 1st UPC bar code coupon, for a 10 pack of Wrigley's gum, was was scanned on June 26th, 1974 in Ohio and the coupon world changed forever.  Today there are about 5 billion coupons scanned every day and the old UPC bar code as we've known it is in the middle of an technology revolution!

I've you've been couponing over the last year or so, then you've noticed a funky new barcode that has  been added the majority of coupons you're redeeming.  This new "stacked" barcode is call the GS1 DataBar.

What is the new GS1 DataBar?

GS1 DataBar is a new bar code joining the UPC family of barcodes that will allow more product in-depth marking.

Trunicated DataBar
"GS1 DataBar™ barcodes carry more information in less space than U.P.C. barcodes. The GS1 DataBar was created to identify small and hard-to-mark products such as loose produce, jewelry, and cosmetics. The GS1 DataBar can also carry serial numbers, lot numbers, and expiration dates, adding visibility to your value chain, and providing the opportunity for collaborative solutions that support product authentication and traceability, product quality and effectiveness, fresh variable measure product identification, and couponing."

In basic terms, the GS1 will allow manufacturers to be more product line specific on coupons to prevent coupon fraud.  These codes can carry coupon expiration dates, define size requirements and basically increase the accuracy of product identification.  As a bonus the GS1 will also be able to prevent the sale of out dated or recalled products! WOW - pretty amazing!

The GS1 DataBar is expected to have full implementation in June of 2011, but smaller grocers and retailers may take longer to adapt to this new technology. So, what does this mean for the couponing community?  It means coupons will only be able to be redeemed for the products listed on the coupon - no more cheating the system by abusing the "family code" on barcodes to buy products other than those listed on a coupon.  It also means more accurate coupon scanning and hopefully a faster checkout.

"Stephen Arens, director of industry engagement for New Jersey-based GS1US, a non-profit group originally established by the grocery industry that administers and develops barcode standards, says that most large grocery stores are up-to-speed on the technology. “One of the reasons the coupon industry wants to use to GS1 Databar for coupons is because it offers the retailers increased capability regarding validation, so the product on the coupon is the same as the product purchased,” he says. In other words, to prevent cheating. "

For right now, you may notice that your cashier has to cover part of the barcode with their hands (many coupons still carry both the UPC and the GS1 for now) in order to scan the coupon, but that should change as the old UPC barcodes should be removed from coupons later this year.


  1. Do you think this update will lead to more coupons becoming available for produce?

  2. I actually am hopeful of that! It certainly opens up the ability to more accurately scan meats and individual or per lb. produce which could increase coupons for these products! Cross your fingers :)


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