May 30, 2017      3 min read

Barcodes are easy to implement, and they have the potential to take a lot of pain out of the inventory management process. Not only do barcodes speed up data entry, they also increase the accuracy of your inventory records and make real-time inventory control possible. Here’s how to set up barcoding for inventory management.

Generating barcodes for barcoding

Barcoding does not usually require a significant investment in new technology, although there are a few things you will need to acquire in order to get started. Firstly, you will need barcodes. A barcode is, at its simplest, just a picture that represents a number or text. Barcode fonts or generators are a free solution for internal use, although you will need to purchase accredited barcodes (either from the standards organisation GS1 or from a reseller) if you intend to apply barcodes to products for sale to larger retailers. Of course, products manufactured elsewhere may already come with barcodes, and you may choose to use these.

Selecting a barcode scanner

Once you’ve generated your barcodes, you will need a barcode scanner. The classic handheld barcode scanner is usually best for small businesses as it is relatively fast while still being flexible enough to scan items that are too big or irregularly shaped to put on a counter. While handheld scanner technology can vary widely, an adequate laser scanner can usually be purchased for less than $100. For portable use, a wireless barcode scanner may be paired with a smartphone or tablet.

Pen-style scanners are also useful for their portability; that said, they can be much slower for tasks involving repeated scanning (for example, a stocktake) as the end of the scanner must be run over the entire barcode (like a highlighter). Embedded barcode scanners, such as those typically seen at supermarket checkouts, are expensive and immobile so they are not ideal for small or medium sized businesses.

Inventory management software

Not all inventory management software will support barcoding; it is important to use software that can store barcode data and produce labels on demand. While there is a wide range of inventory software packages, cloud-based Software-as-a-Service is often a good fit for growing businesses.

Retrofitting barcodes

If your business has a large number of SKUs that do not have barcodes, knowing where to start may be a daunting task. If most products have assigned serial numbers, it should be possible to use convert these into barcodes, at least for internal use. On the other hand, you may simply choose to assign each product a new barcode – this is likely to be the case if you have not used unique identifiers previously, or if you intend to use standardised GS1 barcodes. Obviously, your ability to assign barcodes will depend on knowing exactly which products you stock. If you do not keep a master inventory list, you may wish to carry out a stocktake in addition to referring to supplier product lists.

Deciding how to use barcodes

It is important to consider what effective barcoding practices would look like in your organization. This will largely depend on the nature of your business, how your inventory is stored and on the software and processes used to manage inventory.

Some businesses may prefer staff to scan as they go, while for others it may make sense to scan everything in one go at the end of the process. Scanning throughout is essential in some industries, particularly where there are onerous traceability or sanitary requirements or where it may be difficult to spot an absent part or missed process. In other situations, it may be preferable to quickly scan each barcode at the end.

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