What Are Barcodes Used For?

Barcoding originated in grocery stores and has since extended to use in doctors offices, law firms, post offices, retail stores, security applications, car rental returns and countless others. Barcoding and related technologies have been used in manufacturing companies for shipping and receiving operations for more than 40 years. But even in these more traditional settings, barcode applications have spread throughout the enterprise to include warehousing, accounting and customer service functions, time and attendance, and package delivery, as well as the assembly line operation itself.

In all of these applications, the motivation to begin barcoding is the same: improve data management and accessibility and reduce costs. In the 1970s and 1980s, the increased use of computers in commercial and industrial companies fueled the need for improved data capture. Companies hired armies of data entry professionals tasked with entering repetitive information into network terminals.

In the 1990s, this need for immediate and accurate reporting was compounded with the introduction of just-in-time inventory tracking, build-to-order manufacturing and supply chain management practices. Today, many manual data entry tasks have been replaced by barcode systems.

The widespread acceptance of barcoding over the past four decades has led to the development of numerous industry standards by major industry groups, such as AIAG (automotive), EIA (electronics), HIBCC (healthcare) and HAZMAT (chemical) to name a few. Such standards ensure universal compliance and easy identification of product shipments among trading partners in the supply chain as well as ensure that product (such as hazardous chemicals) is handled properly to prevent injury or loss of life.

Barcode Applications

Barcodes can be used in a variety of markets and across a number of applications.

Mobile Coupons

More and more, today’s tech-savvy shoppers expect to find discounts online in the form of mobile coupons – mobile coupons that can be read by an imager.

Mobile Loyalty

Given the successful use of mobile loyalty programs by several large retail chains, restaurants and hotels are increasingly offering customers the ability to sign up for and track purchases through a mobile application and be rewarded for their loyalty. To redeem their rewards, they must have a worker scan the barcode on their mobile device.

Mobile Payment

Some stores enable customers to upload their gift card on their mobile app and then use that card as a way to pay for purchases. Very often, this type of mobile payment is tied to the mobile loyalty program as a complete solution.

Multiple Barcode Capture (Multi-Code)

Some situations call for the ability to capture multiple types of barcodes in a single trigger pull and simultaneously populate a database with the information. For example, retailers are able to extract the UPC, manufacturing date and serial number information from an item to improve records and better serve the customer.

Images and Signatures

There are certain scenarios where a retailer can use a 2D imager to take a picture of an item, a person, a document or a signature.

Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

Businesses that have invoices with customer names and account numbers in OCR fonts, such as OCR-A and OCR-B, can use an imager to decode and populate the information into an application. Other fonts supported include Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR) and U.S. Currency.

Driver’s License Parsing

Many driver’s licenses contain a PDF417 barcode embedded with the personal identifying information that is written on the front. With available parsing software, retailers can use this information for autopopulating forms for credit card and loyalty card applications, as well as identifying serial returners and managing the sale of restricted items such as alcohol or tobacco.

Positive Patient ID

A 2D barcode is printed on a patients’ wristband and is scanned prior to any clinical interaction.

Specimen Collection

A Clinician scans wristband and vial or specimen collection container.

Medication Administration

A Clinician scans the barcode on the wristband and then the medication, prior to administering to the patient.


Clinician or hospital worker scans wristband and menu.

Prescription Imaging

Scan an image of the paper prescription for digital document storage.

Driver’s License Parsing

Many driver’s licenses contain a PDF417 barcode embedded with the personal identifying information that is written on the front. With available parsing software, restaurants, hotels, and event sites can use this information for age and identity verification for restricted events and to manage the sale of alcohol.

Track and Trace

A 2D barcode is placed on components throughout the manufacturing process to identify the component.

Work in Process (WIP)

Barcodes are placed on partially manufactured goods to track all materials and partially finished products at various stages of the production process. WIP excludes inventory of raw materials at the start of the production cycle and finished products inventory at the end of the production cycle.


Shipping labels utilize 2D barcodes that contain more information and enable better data collection. As an example, PDF417 can incorporate many data points such as the part number, plant location, lot number, weight, pack date, revision and quantity. Shipping labels may also use a mix of both 1D and 2D barcodes.

Pick and Pack Scan the 1D and 2D barcodes on shelf labels, product labels and other barcoded labels to pick, pack and ship orders. 2D codes can offer a smaller footprint than 1D codes and may contain more information enabling better data accuracy.

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