The company eMarketer forecasts the number of smartphone users scanning quick response (QR) codes in the U.S. will increase from 75.8 million in 2021 to 99.5 million in 2025. Let’s compare barcodes and QR codes and decide which is better for inventory management.
Barcodes and QR codes are machine-readable optical labels that store information. When these optical labels are scanned through a special scanner or a smartphone, the information stored in them can be uploaded. Typically, this information is about a product or a company’s payment information, depending on the intended use. What is the difference between a barcode and a QR code? And which one is better for inventory management?
What is a barcode?
A barcode is machine-readable information consisting of parallel lines of varying widths with spaces of varying widths in between. They represent alphanumeric characters that uniquely identify certain data. It is a one-dimensional image. To access this data, you must scan the barcode with a barcode scanner or a smartphone. A barcode can store product information, including manufacture date, batch number, expiration date, and manufacturing facility. The following shape is an example of a barcode.
How do barcodes work?
A barcode is typically black and white. The black part represents 0s or offs, and the white part represents 1s or ons. When you scan a barcode with a scanner, the scanner reflects laser beams. Depending on where the beam falls, the scanner recognizes it as 1s or 0s. In addition to this code, a barcode also has a set of 12 numbers that depict additional information about the product it is attached to.
- First number (position 1) represents the product type.
- Next five numbers (positions 2 to 6) show the manufacturer’s code.
- Next five numbers (positions 7 to 11) show the product type.
- Last number (position 12) is a self-check digit generated by the computer to verify that the barcode has been correctly generated.
The code and the numbers show all the details about the product. A barcode can store 20–25 characters. When you have multiple items on your hand, identifying each product will help you organize them well.
What is a QR code?
A QR code is a machine-readable, two-dimensional barcode that can store information about the item it is attached to. A QR code can also direct you to a website or a page to access this information. You can retrieve the data stored on the QR code by scanning it through a scanner or a smart mobile phone. It is presented as black squares on a white background.
QR codes are so secure that they are used to make payments online. You often see the QR code when buying something. It can be displayed on a counter or payment screen, enabling you to buy something offline or online. Your phone can scan this code and make the payment in seconds.
A QR code looks like this:
How do QR codes work?
A QR code works in a similar way to a barcode. It’s scanned by a QR code scanner, or reader that identifies the patterns on the code and translates them into content that can be read by humans. A QR code can store more information than a barcode, and it uses four standardized encoding modes – alphanumeric, numeric, binary, and Kanji (Japanese language). The data are stored on both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the code. If your QR code only uses alphanumeric code, it can store up to 4,000 characters. The amount of data stored on a QR code varies according to the language or the combination of languages used.
What are QR codes used for?
Generally, QR codes are used for any of the following purposes:
- Text – restaurant menus, conference details, addresses, contact details, and company details.
- URLs – specific web addresses and app URLs.
- Payment links – bank account links or credit card details.
- Authentication information – proof that it is really the legitimate registered user using a two-step verification.
The uses of QR codes extend much beyond this list. They are secure, easy to use, and accessible. Because of this, the use of QR codes is increasing throughout the world.
QR code vs. barcode – Which is a better option for your inventory management?
Barcodes have been used to identify inventory in warehouses for decades. Compared to barcodes, QR codes are still new, but they are rapidly flourishing. The increase in smartphones in the marketplace in the past few years has also made it easier for QR codes to be read, increasing their popularity. So, let’s look at which one is a better identifier for your inventory management.
Amount of data stored
A barcode is a single-dimensional format for storing data, while a QR code is a two-dimensional one. As mentioned earlier, a QR code can store much more than a barcode. Thus, if you prefer to have more information attached to your products, your obvious choice should be QR codes.
Type of data stored
A barcode can store a limited type of data (i.e., product information). It has particular fields for data storage. QR codes, on the other hand, don’t have those restrictions. You can store any kind of data on the code, including texts, phone numbers, URLs, and GPS locations. This broadens the usage of the QR code.
As far as the inventory-management perspective is concerned, you are limited to putting very basic information on a barcode. But with a QR code, you can actually connect it to a whole website. You can include information about:
- Number of items in stock,
- Storage location of the stock,
- URL to your website to buy the item,
- Payment information, and
- Product description, including size, color, and materials.
A QR code allows you to store much more information than a barcode does, making it a better digital tool and a more convenient way to manage your inventory than a barcode.
Accessibility refers to the ease with which the codes can be scanned. A barcode can only be scanned by a barcode scanner – like the ones you see in your local supermarket. Some apps allow you to scan a barcode with your smartphone, but that’s not that common. Most smartphones, however, have an inbuilt capacity to scan QR codes. If your smartphone doesn’t have a built-in QR scanner, you can easily download an app that will do it.
Another difference between the two types of code is the ways in which they can be scanned. A barcode should be scanned in one particular direction only, while a QR code can be scanned either horizontally or vertically. This results in making scanning simple, even for a person who isn’t tech-savvy.
QR technology is relatively new, so it isn’t supported by some older hardware. In cases like that, new-generation mobile phones can be used to scan these codes.
Cybersecurity is an inherent issue when dealing with technology. Barcodes can store only a specific type of information, and you can scan them without having to connect to the Internet.
QR codes, however, are another story. Not only do they contain data, they also link to websites and apps. You need to be connected to the Internet to read a QR code. To be clear, a QR code doesn’t contain any security risk. The QR code generators don’t collect or store your personally identifiable information (PII). Also, information stored on the QR code is encrypted. This is what makes them secure enough to store your payment information. However, if malicious data is stored on the QR code and you scan it, you will be at risk. Scanning a malicious QR code is no different than clicking on a malicious link. So, to be safe, don’t scan random QR codes.
Barcodes have been around longer and are comparatively cheaper to generate than QR codes. They are also easier to print.
If you use inventory management software for your organization, you might already have facilities for integrations, including multiple points of sale, warehouses, and devices. QR codes could be used to scan the inventory directly from your mobile into your inventory management software, making the whole system simpler and much easier to manage. Unfortunately, software that can read a QR code isn’t here yet, so just like me, you will also have to wait for it. Of course, we all hope that time comes soon.
Final thoughts on QR codes vs. barcodes
Barcodes are optical labels that store product data in a digital format, and they are read by a special scanner. QR codes are, in a way, an extension of barcodes. While barcodes represent data in a single dimension, QR codes store data in multiple dimensions. QR codes, therefore, can store larger amounts of data.
Although barcodes are cheaper to generate and print, QR codes are much more efficient, and they could prove to be a boon to your inventory management system. As the world moves towards wider adoption of QR codes, inventory management systems will get better and faster.
Contact DEAR Systems today to find out how they can provide you with an extremely efficient way to read barcodes on your inventory products.