Everything You Need to Know about Barcode Scanners and Smartphone Screens

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Posted May 17, 2017 7:00:00 AM by Greg Henry & filed under bar code, smart phone

As more and more businesses take advantage of the internet to reach customers – through social media, websites, coupon programs, and online directories – they’re placing more and more of their coupons and promotions online.

But customers today aren’t searching on desktop computers and printing out what they find. Instead, they’re finding the information right there on their smartphones and seeing no reason to print it out.

That is fine if your POS scanners can actually read those smartphone screens.

But what if they can’t?

Types of Barcode Scanners

By now, you’ve seen plenty of retail locations busily scanning smartphone coupons without any trouble. So why is it still such a headache for yours?

The answer lies in the type of scanner you use.

According to Chainlink Research, there are four main types of scanners used in retail:

  • Laser scanners. Emits a laser beam and moves it rapidly back and forth (scans) across the barcode. It senses the changing intensity of the reflection to read the black and white lines of the barcode. Because it is scanning so fast, it looks to our eyes like a relatively solid red line (or pattern). These can be handheld devices or omni-directional scanners that are built into many retail checkout lanes.
  • CCD scanners. Has LEDs (light-emitting diodes) arranged in a row and a sensor measures the ambient light in front of each LED.
  • Camera-based readers. Takes an actual picture of the barcode. This can read 1D and 2D barcodes.
  • Pen/wand readers. The user holds the tip of the pen/wand against the barcode and moves across it at a steady speed.

Laser scanners dominate the retail industry. Unfortunately, those laser beams are often thwarted by the glass of a smartphone display. Refraction of the glass itself, glare from the phone’s backlighting, and physical or software filters placed on the display can all cause the laser scan to fail.

Pen and wand scanners work similar to laser scanners, except they use a light source and photo diodes instead of lasers. Having to hold these scanners steady is a challenge, although their mobility and versatility makes up for it in some retailers’ eyes.

Image-based scanners like CCD and camera technology are much more reliable on smartphone screens, but they cost more.

1D and 2D Barcodes

Another topic in the barcode conversation is whether the codes are 1D or 2D.

A traditional barcode with a rectangular shape and series of black vertical lines is a 1D barcode. This is the one we’re all familiar with and is found somewhere on the packaging of virtually every product.

A 2D barcode, on the other hand, is usually square and presents layers of information. Also referred to as matrix barcodes, they can provide a lot more data than their 1D counterparts. A QR code that links you to a social media page or other URLs when you scan it, is one of the most common examples of 2D barcodes.

So what’s the catch? Laser and other linear scanners (such as most pen and wand scanners) can only read 1D barcodes.

If you want to make use of 2D barcodes as part of your retail solution, you’ll need a 2D capable scanner. Not sure if you need them? Here’s a list of the most common types of barcodes in use today, from Electronic Imaging Materials.

Before you rush out to buy an imaging-type scanner, however, you should also consider where that technology is being used. Most QR codes, for example, are used in marketing and will be scanned by customer phones – there’s no reason for your POS scanner to read them.

On the other hand if you have suppliers using data matrix codes, you might find it useful to scan 2D barcodes directly. Especially if you have mobile-enabled inventory or pricing software, such as those DecisionPoint’s retail solutions offer.

Scanning Smartphones at Your Registers

If you’re encountering difficulties right now scanning smartphones in your retail store, you have several options.

  1. Upgrade to an imaging-style scanner This solves the smartphone scanning problems, plus it allows the use of 2D barcodes should you need them.
  2. Do nothing. As long as your POS system allows manual entry of coupon codes, you might be able to “wait it out” until the vast majority of your customers’ begin to use their smartphones for couponing. While not the best strategy for retailers with a heavy online presence, this can work for those who use online discounts sparingly.

If you want to see how to make the best use of barcode technologies in your retail business, whether at POS or on the back-end, DecisionPoint can show you how. Contact us today for a free consultation.


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