How do Barcodes Work, Anyway?

Barcodes are everywhere – from the detergent you buy in a store, to the books you check out from a library, and even your driver’s license (check the back). Although we’re accustomed to seeing barcodes on a daily basis, most of us don’t give much thought to how these striped graphics work, or how they can help our businesses run more efficiently. Watch the video below to learn the basics of how a barcode works – so next time you head to the store to buy a soda, you’ll know exactly what’s going on behind the scenes.

Now that you know the basics of how a barcode works, here are 6 ways your business can use barcodes to save time and money.

  1. Barcode your inventory. Using barcodes to track your business’ inventory can help you stay on top of where items are located and how many items are in stock. A basic inventory tracking system consists of software and a barcode scanner or mobile computer. Inventory items (like products you sell, supplies, or raw materials) will all have barcode labels, so when you remove an item from stock, you just scan the barcode to reduce the available count in your inventory tracking software, instead of having to type in a SKU.
  2. Add barcode tags to your assets. Any business, no matter how large or small, has IT assets and fixed assets. That includes items like PCs, laptops, projectors, software, and tools. To help your IT staff save time, consider implementing a basic asset tracking system, including software and a barcode scanner or mobile computer. Barcoded asset tags are attached to each asset, and can be scanned to check items in or out in your asset tracking software. It’s a great way to improve accountability and makes audits much easier.
  3. Create a shadow book for your retail store. Small items like screws or nails, or perishable groceries like fruit and vegetables, aren’t built for barcode labels. So to keep your checkout line moving lightning fast, try a shadow book or barcode scan sheet. It’s just a line listing of items and corresponding barcodes – so when someone brings a Washington apple to the cash register, you can look it up on your scan sheet, and just scan the barcode to ring it up.
  4. Use barcodes in return mail. Does your organization sell products that require registration? Add a barcode to the return-mail registration postcard that matches the product’s serial number, and then you can instantly track which serial numbers are registered, and which aren’t. Plus, your customers won’t have to locate and transcribe a lengthy serial number.
  5. Include barcodes in a mail merge. If your company is hosting an event, you can add barcodes to an RSVP card so you can track who has responded – without trying to translate anyone’s handwriting.
  6. Add barcodes to invoices. Sending out invoices to your customers? Add a barcode that represents the customer number or the individual invoice number so when it’s returned with payment, you can easily locate the customer account or invoice number. This will prevent problems like applying payments to the incorrect customer account or invoice.

Related Article: Barcode: The Ultimate Guide to Barcodes

How does your business use barcodes? Got any tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments.

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Brian Sutter

Brian Sutter

Director of Marketing at Wasp Barcode
Brian Sutter is the Director of Marketing at Wasp, responsible for the development and execution of the company’s marketing strategy. His role encompasses brand management, direct and channel marketing, public relations, advertising, and social media. He also writes and speaks on topics related to helping small business owners grow their business and improve operational efficiency.
Brian Sutter
Brian Sutter
  • Seareach

    Barcodes have evolved and I think that QR codes, that can be scanned by mobile phones (as well as barcodes), are set to grow at quite a rate, due to the fact that they can hold much more information.

    We use standard code 39 or code 128 barcodes for identifying equipment for security and inventory purposes, however have found that many people are requesting QR codes.

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    • N Rink

      I have a product that I plan to sell to retailers. How do I go about getting a barode for it?

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      • ageorgi

        Hi N Rink,
        It depends on the kind of retailers you are working with, but if you are going to resell your products through large retailers, it’s likely that your products will need to be tagged with UPC codes. The first step is contacting GS1 to get the company pre-fix for your UPC barcode – these digits are a unique identifier for your company. You can start that process here: Once you have done that, you can use a barcode label software and a barcode printer to create your tags. For a limited number of tags, the free online Barcode Maker is a great option. We’d be happy to help if you have any other questions – feel free to give us a shout at 866.547.9277.

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  • asghar account

    Dear Sir, I am working in petro chemical industry. I am responsible to warehouse. I have ZM400 barcode printer. I know the operation of that printer but I don’t know how I create barcode. Which number I give to any product and how it will work. I read your article that is pretty good but still I am confused. Kindly guide me regarding that

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