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[ 0 ] Mar. 5, 2012 | SBO Editor

The ABC’s of barcodes & how you can use them to build your business.

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). The very first scanning of the now ubiquitous Universal Product Code (UPC) barcode was on a pack of Wrigley Company chewing gum in June 1974, according to Wikipedia.

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. Here is an explanation 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.

A barcode is simply a series of alphanumeric digits that represent the item number. When the barcode is scanned, it pulls up the entry in the database, which includes the prices, item description and other information.

The barcode scanner enters data just like a keyboard would. But instead of manually typing in the item number, leaving room for errors, the scanner adds the data to your document or database. It is much easier, considerably faster and significantly more accurate than managing your inventory or assets manually. (Wasp Barcode Technologies has a great video guide to barcodes on their site: see below.)

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’s 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. This will improve your efficiency.

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.


Wasp Barcode Technologies provides data capture and tracking solutions designed specifically for small business. Products include: inventory control, asset tracking, time and attendance, barcode scanners, barcode printers, and point of sale (POS) solutions. Wasp products help small business owners manage their companies more efficiently with improved productivity and profitability. Learn more at: www.waspbarcode.com or call 866-547-WASP.


Category: Magazine, Start Your Own Business, Start Your Own Business Summer 2012