RSS Feed

Related Articles

Related Categories

Why the hospitality industry is now so reliant on barcode scanners

24th January 2022 Print

As we sit here now in the 2020s, the humble barcode scanner might seem as mundane and as expected to us as having the ability to speak and walk. 

In truth, however, there were many ups and downs ‘en route’ to the world of quick and easy barcode scanning as we now know it. Furthermore, many of us might also not realise just how crucial this technology is to the day-to-day operations of modern hospitality businesses.  

How did barcode scanning come to be? 

To gain a more in-depth appreciation of how hospitality firms such as retail and food stores, restaurants and fast-food chains came to depend on barcode scanners to the extent that they now do, it is useful to glance back about 70 years or so.  

After all, the reasons why barcodes – and the associated scanning equipment – turned out to be so sorely needed back in the mid-to-late 20th century, are largely the same as the factors explaining early 21st-century hospitality businesses’ reliance on them now.

Back in 1948, it was a distraught supermarket owner in the United States who was apparently feeling the pinch. Frustrated by how his profits were being obliterated by delays and stocktaking, he pleaded with a dean at Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia to devise some means of getting shoppers through his stores faster. The store owner was interested in knowing about technology that would allow the automatic reading of product information at the checkout stage. 

The dean shrugged off the enquiry. However, the conversation was overheard by a junior postgraduate, Bernard “Bob” Silver, who decided to team up with fellow graduate student Norman Joseph Woodland to work on creating a solution. 

Alas, this was not the work of a moment, and efforts were still being put into developing a fully workable system into the 1960s. Even after the first commercial use of barcoding in 1966, it was clear that an industry standard was required. 

It took all the way until 26th June 1974 for the first item marked with the Universal Product Code (UPC) to be scanned at the checkout of a supermarket in Ohio. The era of barcode scanning had effectively begun. 

What continues to make barcode scanners so essential now? 

Today, it is probably difficult for great numbers of us to comprehend how we could have possibly lived without these now instantly recognisable machine-readable codes. With their familiar form of numbers combined with parallel lines, barcodes aren’t just utilitarian solutions – they are now integral to popular culture, even inspiring artworks such as Banksy’s Barcode Leopard. 

Barcodes continue to be crucial for hospitality firms such as retail stores and restaurants, and the warehouses, inventory management systems, and point-of-sale (POS) systems that serve them. They are a proven, universal and trusted technology that helps to not only save time – as that aforementioned shop owner was seeking all along – but also reduce the scope for human error, as would undoubtedly be a great issue today if we were still dependent on a more manual process. 

Furthermore, barcodes and the associated barcode scanners are relatively cheap and easy to use. It’s a simple process to generate and print a barcode, and the most basic barcode scanners today can cost as little as £30 each to buy. For the chance to greatly speed up your checkout processes, optimise stock monitoring and management, and ensure all items your business sells are sold at the correct price, that sounds like an excellent deal to us. 

In more recent times, of course, we have had the COVID-19 crisis, which has helped accelerate the widespread use of another type of barcode: the QR code. While QR code systems were first developed in the 1990s, they have proved a lifeline for many hospitality businesses since the onset of the pandemic, by providing a means by which customers can pay for goods and services at the same time as maintaining physical distancing. 

QR codes can hold a lot more data than standard barcodes – up to 2,500 numeric characters, as opposed to the traditional barcode’s 43. As BBC technology reporter David Silverberg put it in 2021, “QR codes are enjoying their moment in the spotlight thanks to their ability to connect the digital world to the physical” – and of course, their mass adoption also demonstrates that barcode scanning in general remains extremely relevant to today’s world. 

Could your own firm benefit from the highest standard of barcode scanner repair? If so, please feel free to get in touch with our team at Mobile Computer Repair today, so that we can play our part in helping you maximise the usable lifespan of your own business’s barcode-scanning equipment.