Major Delays Feared For UPC Successor DataBar

Written by Fred J. Aun
June 4th, 2009

As retailers this month celebrate (or at least give a yawning acknowledgement of) the 35th anniversary of the Universal Product Code (UPC), there are increasing signs that merchants aren’t quite ready for its proposed replacement, the GS1 DataBar.

GS1 US, the United States arm of the international standards body GS1, has been pushing Jan. 1 as the voluntary adoption (aka “sunrise”) date for the more muscular DataBar. DataBars on produce reveal not only the price and type but can also identify the brand, provide expiration data and other important information. Produce bearing DataBar labels can be scanned at self-service kiosks and when the new barcodes are printed on coupons, they eliminate the need for cashiers to validate whether the promotional products are included in the items purchased.

GS1 US has urged certain retailers, primarily supermarkets selling fresh produce and accepting coupons, to have their POS and backend systems ready to handle DataBar by New Year’s Day. The likelihood of that happening, however, appears to be slim, something made apparent to those who attended April’s Association of Coupon Professionals (ACP) Conference in San Antonio. They heard about substantial retailer indifference to the GS1 US’s efforts, through surveys designed to determine DataBar adoption readiness. Many at the sessions said GS1 US will be likely have to move the sunrise date down the road.

The economy is just one factor in the delay, but it’s a key one. With extensive store closings, retail layoffs and dramatic budget cuts, Top Ten priority lists have become Top Three priority lists. Those tighter priorities have to be completed with fewer IT people, which means anything that won’t likely yield an immediate margin boost isn’t likely to make the initial cut.

This certainly doesn’t mean that DataBar is in jeopardy, but that it will, like a thousand other technology advancements that preceded it, have to wait quite a few more months for rollout than it had hoped for.

Although there was no formal announcement from GS1 US at the ACP conference, Ahold Information Services Vice President of Applications Development Alan Williams gave a presentation where he said a January replacement of the current UPC-A barcode with the DataBar “would create a significant hardship for a large number of retailers.” Ahold, a Netherlands-based grocery chain operator with sales of $40 billion, has about 1,400 stores in the U.S. including Stop&Shop and Giant.

Williams talked about the GS1 US survey that found 65 percent of retailers said they wouldn’t be ready by Jan. 1 to process coupons bearing the DataBar.

Nevertheless, as of early June, GS1 US was taking a very different view, arguing most U.S. retailers were on-board. The organization didn’t seem to be backing away from the Jan. 1 adoption schedule.


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