Fifty years ago, the Spalding supermarket gained notoriety as the very first retail outlet to use the groundbreaking technology of barcodes. With a single scan of that first barcode on a packet of teabags, the world of retail changed forever. Since then, barcodes have become ubiquitous in supermarkets and shops worldwide, revolutionising the way customers and workers shop, check prices and manage stock.
To commemorate the milestone, Mar Taylor, GS1 UK’s Retail Insights Manager, visited Spalding using the latest scanning technology, discovering how barcodes have shaped the course of retail for decades. During the visit, some of the locals shared their experiences, with one woman expressing her sympathy for the older generation who might find it difficult to self-scan items.
GS1 UK’s marketing director Sarah Atkins said the global phenomenon of barcodes has been fundamental to effective management of inventory throughout the retail industry. She explained that barcodes ensure the right products get to the right place, as well as driving loyalty programs, managing stocks and helping determine appropriate prices.
Looking to the future, Sarah believes the next step will be ‘smart QR codes’: a Quick Response code made up of dots that can provide significantly more data than a traditional barcode. This technology, she said, will merge the internet with the barcode, facilitating a plethora of information available to consumers.
The traders of Spalding, meanwhile, appreciate the usefulness of barcodes but also ascribe to the value of personal interaction when it comes to shopping. For example, Sarah Hallgarth from Bookmark said that although barcodes are great and convenient, it would be nothing without the technology working. Bernie Stennett, owner of a jewellery shop in Spalding, expressed the same sentiment in that the immediacy of interacting with customers directly was still valued by some.
Today, GS1 UK is the centrepiece of a global organisation that regulates the barcode standards. Their work makes it possible for businesses to use barcodes for product identification, as well as to access a digital structure so organisations can share verified, reliable data and access markets in an efficient way. On its 50th anniversary, they take pride in being part of this historical breakthrough, pioneered by the humble Spalding supermarket.