Barcode scanners and smart cards


In an age of technological revolution, the use of information systems in computers has become essentially paramount and the overwhelming vast majority of major supermarkets worldwide has become dependant on it, the consumer demands speed and convenience and the supplier has a strong emphasis on accuracy and providing those needs that inevitably cannot be displaced, only to become better at the least, which has been happening through time. The consumer as well as the supplier needs a method where a product can be instantly recognised, and deliver an on the spot price as well accumulate more than one product not to mention information that both parties can benefit from, and not to mention be rewarded for their loyalty in recognition of their custom. The use of technology in the business sector in the supermarket chain cannot be declared such a name without such a system; however this report is not to testify its perfection, but more to exemplify its reliability, importance and future advancements.

Why Barcode Scanners?

All products to be sold in a supermarket has a barcode embedded on it NO exception, this resembles vertical black lines and a row of numbers, a barcode scanner is a computer peripheral for reading the barcode printed on those surfaces, it is connected to a computer that indentifies what is being scanned and displays on screen the information stored about that particular image and number which is required in a store. The most common scanner used but not necessarily the best is laser scanners, that uses a beam to capture the image and process it. It is believed the essential reason for using a barcode scanner is accurate accumulation of multiple items scanned.

Barcode scanner are not limited to the cashiers section for the sake of buying goods and simply checking out, there are anti-theft devices on many supermarkets on the store exit, so if one were not to pay for an item, the anti-theft barcode reader would pick up an items barcode as unregistered on the database or simply put paid for.

With today’s advancements there are also self checkout spots were the consumer can simply scan the items themselves, so it’s quite obvious the wonders of barcode isn’t quite going anywhere.

Why Smart Cards?

Smart cards in supermarkets usually are used as a loyalty scheme.

A loyalty scheme is when the consumer gets points for purchases and gets rewarded with coupons or discounts for future purchases. In some cases you may have to reach a certain limit before you are entitled to use your reward.

A smart card is like a credit card in shape and its size, smart cards have an embedded microprocessor, and it is under a gold pad on the front of the card, although magnetic strips are still used and popular.

It can store the consumer’s details and products purchased if it were to be ready available. Having a smart card is optional but it is beneficiary as you can gain points, which will be stored on the computer system. It also worth noting, not only it inputs data into the smart chip as well as on the central computer, it can also be edited, or certain numeric information deducted in others words points in exchange for rewards

The scheme is more than just rewards and coupons, loyalty scheme can put themselves in a privileged position of paying loyalty prices where as non member wont.

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An In-Depth look at Barcode Scanners in Supermarkets

In a world where shops, store and supermarkets stocks grow by products, it has become an increasing demand to keep the consumers happy, the need to understand what needs to be reordered and more appropriately when has become important for financial gain in the industry.

Gone are the days where in the backroom every item had to be manually counted, a waste of valuable time and ever so expensive. Even punch cards where the consumer had to mark an item they want to buy, did not exactly deliver convenience.

Thankfully in the mid 20th century the introduction of barcode devices came through. An idea of a device that can identify a product quickly and accurately became essential and when proven successful it cannot be reverted, only made better, they are barcode scanners or readers.

If no items for sale in a supermarket carried a barcode, then scanners would be considered pointless. With this primary purpose in mind, a barcode scanner does more than just retrieve product information.

An Explanation…

A product carries a series of numbers, but what do these numbers mean?

  • The first two digits implicate the country where the product was made.
  • The next five digits implicate who made the product or what company
  • The next five digits implicate the product itself. E.g. Biscuits
  • The last digit is a validation number, to ensure the barcode scanner has read the code correctly.

When a consumer is making purchases, each items barcode that has been scanned is transferred from the POS (Point of Sales) terminal or in others words the laser barcode reader, and then passes on that information to the main computer.

This computer has a substantially large database that has all the information about the items the shop sells, every supermarket sets a criterion in what information that needs to be extracted instantly at the POS which will be clearly displayed on the screen a quite possibly another one so the consumer can be made clear on the prices, this is quite obviously the Price and the Description, this is added to the bill and also are ready to be printed at the finalisation stage.

Barcode devices are more than just retrieve information from a database according to the code it matches, according to its “reference” barcode scanners help the computer established what item has been sold or even returned, it helps the computer identify the quantity of stock remaining and possibly alert the manager what
needs to be reordered, this is called Automatic stock-taking. Supermarkets have multiple computers which is in a single room and have their own local are network, they control the stock


In means of telecommunications, the information stored on the computer, which was transmitted by the barcode system, it needs to communicate with another system to verify volume and notification of reordering. In certain cases this form of communication, is needed through a network using the internet, after the entire stock control department may not always be in the direct vicinity of the supermarket, so this is essential and plays a big part of the process.

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“Businesses would be lost without the current technological advancements and a lot of companies would cease to exist.”

Without the internet and transmission, the use of barcode equipment would be considered of useless, as it needs a form of electronic communication.


The use of barcode equipment has been firmly accepted by the supermarket chain as well as the consumer, its effectiveness can never be degraded or dwindle, only to thrive and become more advanced by the day. On the other hand nothing can be 100% effective are there are ups and downs to everything and the supermarkets information system is no different. From a supermarkets point of view what are the advantages and disadvantages?

Supermarkets Advantages

  • Speed -to have a barcode scanned only takes a fraction of a section
  • Accuracy – with a typical laser scanner it the chances of a reading error is 1 in 70 million
  • Convenience – No need for human calculation or problems solving related to prices as the use of barcode and retrieve those sort of details

Supermarkets Disadvantages

  • Update – prices needs to be updated via the database, if not it can cause confusion when advertising a special offer on display, as an information system has no way of knowing of this adjustment.
  • A power cut can cause possible loss of data

It would be very difficult to find additional disadvantages from a supermarkets point of view as it doesn’t require special training to use one so it is pretty much immaculate.

A barcode reader may be beneficial to the supermarkets but what about the consumer?

Consumers Advantages

  • Speed and efficiency when checking out items
  • Because prices are stored on a computer they can be reassured of accuracy
  • Any promotions or special offers will automatically be processed without the need to bring it to the cashier’s attention.

Consumers Disadvantages

  • A single item may accidently be scanned twice without the consumers knowledge, a barcode reader simply scans a barcode and cannot identify human error under the circumstances
  • Like from a supermarkets point of view, the computer that stores the item information, cannot be aware of any price change unless updated, causing inconvenience to the consumers

The effectiveness of barcode readers excluding minor human error can be described as foolproof and indispensable and the advantage significantly outweighs the disadvantages.

Loyalty Scheme Information System

As well as accessing and retrieving item details and prices, through a barcode reader and a loyalty card, another system is required to interrelate with what being purchased and have information about the consumer itself and be rewarded or identify purchasing habits to pass on to marketing or third part companies, this is not possible without obtaining the consumers details, preferences and permissions.

What are the requirements to get this information and data?

Each consumer is identified by a unique identifier number which is stored on the loyalty card itself but what is needed before being approved in a loyalty scheme?

  • Consumers Name – this is the most important as other information held is invalid without it
  • Address – for eligibility of vouchers, points or discounts you must provide a valid address, which may carry a location restriction on who can apply
  • Gender – in order for the supermarket to analyse shopping habits and patterns, they can observe a distinction between male and female and what appropriate promotions or recommendations that would suit them.
  • Marketing – any communication outside the supermarket between other companies and the consumer can only be made with the permission approved by the consumer him/herself before any details are passed on to relevant parties.
  • Other Contact Details – this could be your telephone number or an email address, should they need to contact you in regarding your purchases or any queries you have made
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How Does It Work?

All information systems are connected via a network in order to communicate with each other, if one were to benefit from a loyalty scheme, it must communicate with a machine that holds prices and product information in order to calculate and analyse to make adjustments and process whatever advantage or accumulation the consumer is entitled to.

My Conclusion

Observing supermarket barcode systems and loyalty cards from outside the box, before putting together this report, I possessed virtually no knowledge on the requirements and the consistency required in order for the business information systems to operate, it did not occur to me that human error can cause disruption from an otherwise fault free barcode system. I failed to recognise that information about consumer’s details and product information especially the price is connected via a network on separate computers servers not necessarily in the direct vicinity of the supermarket itself. I noted speed and accuracy is only dependant by people by half, and information processing is primarily dependant on technology especially the barcode reader it self. One business owner cannot declare it a supermarket without these devices.

Loyalty scheme carries a subtle objective many people may not be able to grasp, I did not realise that passing on your personal details is not necessarily used to reward for shopping with that particular chain, but also to analyse your spending and buying habits and with your consent send you information and offers relevant to this criteria which may appeal to the loyalty scheme member. If your details were passed on to marketing when you specified not to, I learnt you are doing more than just breaking the policy but you are breaking the law and the consumer can sue the company.

I have learnt the complexity involved in making sure everything is kept up to par, and it required by human input to update necessary changes to the system.

Consumers in general fail to recognise how important these devices are, and how they contribute to an easy experience, only the employees can benefit from something that simply cannot subside in time, only to develop better methods on a system that is established as a permanent component in the business.


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