A transformative change is coming to the field of traceability. In a world driven by increasingly sophisticated technological advancements, the traditional barcode is being replaced by more powerful solutions. Stephen Gryzska, Director of Strategy and Corporate Development at Markem-Imaje tells us more.


A huge change is coming in the realm of traceability – people are referring to it as “the death of the barcode.” Could you explain this concept to us and talk a bit about why it’s happening?

I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as the death of the barcode, but more of an evolution from the current 1 dimensional UPC or EAN-13 barcode that you see on every retail product or trade item today to a two-dimensional barcode, like the GS-1 Digital Link Barcode, that has the capacity to hold more data than the traditional UPC/EAN-13 barcode and be used to provide more utility and value to retailers, brands, distributors and consumers.

In a world that is quickly digitizing, there is an increasing demand for more product information or data that can improve how we make, sell, purchase, consume, and recycle those products. However, there are constraints to the amount of information that can be printed on a product’s packaging, as well as storing that product information and data in a way that can be accessible to scanners, mobile phones, and other automated data collection equipment to make use of that data.

The introduction and “sunrise” of the GS-1 Digital Link barcode creates an opportunity for brands and retailers to embed more product-related identification data and URL links to digital product and brand information in a small format barcode that can be scanned by retailers, distributors and consumers for a broad range of applications including: consumer engagement, traceability and product provenance, improved inventory management, sustainability, and much more.

In order to make sense of this shift, it might be useful to look back to the past. The barcode is being replaced, but, once upon a time, it was seen as a disruptive “new” solution. How did barcodes initially come about, and what lessons can we learn from that can be applied to this latest shift?

Barcodes were initially invented to address the challenges supermarket retailers had with inefficient customer checkout lines and manual stocktaking for the thousands of different products they sold which was negatively impacting retailer profits and providing poor customer experiences.

The ubiquitous UPC or EAN-13 barcode you see today, according to your location, started getting adopted by different retailers in the 1980’s as they saw the value in using the UPC/EAN-13 codes to automatically scan and checkout product sales and automate stocktaking.

While the barcode was initially used to automate checkout and stocktaking, the data capture, retailers and brands soon found that the data collected from UPC or EAN-13 barcodes also open up additional applications and provided valuable intelligence about consumer’s preferences, product velocity, and retail inventory that improved product planning, product marketing and inventory management.

What we can learn from UPC/EAN-13 barcodes is that product data from barcodes can provide value to brands and retailers, and embedding more product, production data and digital information in new generation GS-1 Digital Link barcodes will enable retailers and brands to provide new applications and use cases that go beyond what is possible today with simple UPC/EAN-13 barcodes, further improving the consumer experiences and the transparency and operational efficiency of brands and retailers.

What are the advantages of new systems over barcodes? What can they do that barcodes cant?


Today’s UPC barcode includes a limited capacity for 12 numerical digits that represent the product brand owner number, the product’s item number and a check code digit with the EAN-13 having one extra digit to include the country code of production.

In a UPC or EAN-13 barcode, there is no capacity for other product or production data such as batch/lot number, expiration date, or other data that is typically to be printed in a human readable manner on the package, and that can be useful to brands, distributors, and retailers if collected in an automated manner.

The GS-1 Digital Link barcode has significantly more data capacity for additional product and production data, as well as URLs that link mobile phone scans of the barcode to a digital web page that provides additional digital product information.

With this additional data storage capacity, the advantage to using the GS-1 Digital Link barcode is that a brand can embed more product and production data in a barcode to not only support automated scan and commerce at point of sale with GTIN scanning, but also enable an entirely new set of value-add applications such as:

  • · Digital consumer engagement
  • · Improved inventory management through automated product lot and expiration date control
  • · Traceability, provenance and diversion tracking through product serial number collection
  • · Faster product recall management through automated lot number control
  • · Additional digital product information that can support recycling, and product use/support applications.


The new applications can improve consumer experience, enable more product sales, and drive efficiencies across the supply chain from brand to retailer.

And are there any advantages that barcodes have over the newer solutions? What are the major obstacles standing in the way of the adoption of these new solutions?

Having the ability to embed more product and production data and URLs in a small format Digital Link barcode enables new applications that improve consumer experience, engagement and loyalty, as well as improvement in product sales and operating efficiencies for both brands and retailers.

The key to delivering this value is embedding more production and product data in the new Digital Link barcodes, which requires printing barcodes during the product packaging process.

As more product data will be embedded in these Digital Link barcodes, it will become critical for brands to manage the full lifecycle of these Digital Link barcodes from GS1 compliant barcode creation and data management, to inline printing and verification of high quality barcodes, to managing the digital experiences that are delivered to consumers and partners than scan the barcodes with mobile phones.

Addressing these considerations while transitioning from UPC and EAN-13 to Digital Link barcodes does not need to be complex, as solution experts such as Markem-Imaje offer a full range of solutions and services for Brands to transition to and manage the full life cycle of Digital Link barcodes.

The other consideration for adopting these new Digital Link barcodes is the ability for retailers and mobile devices to scan these new barcodes. GS-1 Digital Link sunrise 2027 is a program that is focused on having all retailers Point of Sale scanners able to scan 2D barcodes such as GS-1 Digital Link barcodes by 2027.

In addition to Digital Link Sunrise 2027, both Apple and Android operating systems natively scan QR Barcodes, including QR Digital Link barcodes, to ensure that consumers can easily access any URLs that are embedded in Digital Link barcodes today.

How is the rise of AI affecting “the death of the barcode”?

AI is not necessarily affecting the death of the barcode today, but as brands embed more product and production data in Digital Link barcodes in the future, AI systems will have larger and more meaningful product data sets to train on, which will enable the development of more applications that enhance retail inventory management, product production scheduling, recall management, and market trend analysis.

The opportunities that lie ahead are exciting as they will enhance consumer experience, enable more product sales, and drive efficiencies across the supply chain from brand to retailer.

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