An effective inventory management system involves understanding how to maximize the use of barcodes, from receiving inbound materials to shipping finished goods. Barcodes are simple to set up, and the ROI is significant; barcodes speed up data entry, improve the accuracy of your inventory records and enable real-time inventory management. To get the most out of barcoding, it is important to follow best practice. Here are four essential tips to make sure your barcoding efforts are setting your business up for inventory success.
Labelling the Right Item
Producers have the option of labelling inventory at the piece, box or pallet level. Generally, it is best to label the product at the level at which orders are fulfilled. For example, if you mostly ship entire pallets of product, you may be able to barcode the pallets rather than each individual piece or box. If you ship a mix of box and pallet orders, it may be best to label individual boxes as all the labelling can be done at the point of packaging rather than once orders for boxes or pallets are received.
Choosing the Best Barcode Symbology
While barcodes are commonly recognisable, they are not universally interoperable. Different types of barcodes use different symbology – that is, the way that bars and spaces are arranged to represent a unique identifier or other inventory data. The ‘best practice’ barcode symbology will depend on your industry and the product that is being sold.
Retail products, for example, will typically be labelled with UPC or EAN barcodes, depending on the markets where they are primarily sold. If you are exporting to the United States, a UPC barcode is often expected. However, other barcodes may be better suited for smaller form factors or non-traditional materials. A 2D barcode, such as the well known QR code, may be best if you need to store additional information beyond a unique identifier such as expiry dates, batch numbers or a production location.
Use Standardised Barcodes
A barcode is really just a picture which represents alphanumeric data. It is simple to generate a barcode from a unique identifier – barcode fonts and generators are readily available. That said, many businesses may use the same unique identifier and symbology, and so often end up using identical barcodes for different products.
Self-generated barcodes are appropriate for strictly internal use, such as to track resources or partly finished goods. However, products that are being sold to customers should generally use a standardised, accredited barcode. These can be obtained from a standards organisation such as GS1 for a minimal cost.
Use Supplier Barcodes Wisely
Many products will have already been barcoded by suppliers. This can be useful, particularly if the supplier has barcoded using an appropriate symbology and at the level which you are fulfilling orders. That said, it is important to bear in mind that the same products from different suppliers are likely to have different barcodes and that, in some situations, different suppliers may use the same unique identifier for different products. If this is the case, it may be prudent to take the time to apply a new, best practice barcode.
Article by Melanie Chan in collaboration with our team of Unleashed Software inventory and business specialists. Melanie has been writing about inventory management for the past three years. When not writing about inventory management, you can find her eating her way through Auckland.