From supermarket checkout to supply chain tracking, the barcode is a universal tool that has impacted businesses in so many ways. Yesterday, the barcode turned 60 yet its versatility today ranges from accessing patient data to enabling electronic boarding passes, and is found on everything from marketing communications for delivery of relevant messaging to product packaging to capture warranty information. The range of use shows how far it has come from its humble beginnings on packs of Wrigley's gum in 1974.
Although the Wrigley Company was the first to use a Universal Product Code commerically, the barcode's beginnings trace back to 1932 when Wallace Flint developed a punched card method that automatically read product information during checkout for accurate inventory tracking. The barcode wasn't officially born until October 7, 1952 when Bernard Silver and Norman Joseph Woodland patented a method that can automatically read product information using an ultraviolet light sensitive ink, which made patterns of ink that would glow under ultraviolet light.
Since Silver and Woodland's release of its "Classifying Apparatus and Method," Barcode design has transformed several times over the past 60 years.Today barcodes are used in all industries and almost every setting to track inventory, store customer transaction data, and customize marketing. In recent years, they've become tools to help enhance the customer experience as companies leverage them to engage the customer at the right time and right place with relevant product information, promotions, or pricing information and to seamlessly connect an offline and online marketing campaign. Retailers use them as mechanisms to store customer transactional history and to gather feedback to make critical business decisions. Barcodes have essentially become the lifeblood of many companies today.
In light of its 60th birthday, I stopped to reflect on how this invention has helped transform the way companies conduct businesses on a daily basis, from making intelligent R&D decisions to creating efficiencies and enhancing the customer experience. One can only wonder where the next generation of the barcode will take companies as savvy consumers continue to demand more customized interactions and communications with the brands with which they do business.