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Barcode scanner essentials

Having an efficient and professional way of managing products and orders is vital. Learn about the benefits of barcode scanners here

Not just for large-scale retail outlets or warehouse operations, barcode scanners offer accuracy, convenience, and professionalism for small businesses too, across a range of sectors.

Did you know that on average, humans have a data entry error rate of one error per 300 characters? This makes barcode scanners a guaranteed saving grace for any business as the average error rate of a barcode scanner is just one error per 36 trillion characters.

The following will provide more information about the types of scanners available, as well as the apps that can be accessed too. Plus, we’ll highlight some of the top scanners and apps on the market.

In this article, we'll cover:

Read on for a detailed look at barcode scanners. Or, if you’re ready to compare quotes now, scroll up to the top of the page and fill in the form.

What is a barcode scanner?

Essentially, a barcode scanner is a device that reads the code on a product.

The code is typically a series of monochrome lines in a box on a label, which has a unique collection of letters and numbers that identifies a particular item. The scanner recognises the code as it has been associated with a product previously.

There are two main types of barcodes:

1D barcodes – the series of black and white lines in a box with a code of numbers and letters

2D barcodes – a square monochrome graphic that can be scanned with a compatible. These are Quick Response (QR) codes

Barcodes can be created yourself online. Or you can opt to have them designed professionally. This will be driven largely by your business’ requirements, in terms of the complexity and quantity of the barcodes you want to create.

A simple system to organise and categorise your products efficiently is likely to be catered for with a do-it-yourself approach. This would be suitable for businesses like a boutique or a small office-based enterprise.

Whereas a more intensive inventory with multiple needs – such as that of a warehouse or logistics business – will probably require more specialist barcode knowledge.

If you run your own online shop or sell products to other companies, especially internationally, you’ll need to use external barcode sites that can create barcodes that are widely recognised.

This is generally known as an Universal Product Code (UPC).

One of the most frequently used and affordable options is a handheld scanner. However, the technology used to read the barcodes varies – here’s a quick guide.

CCD – ideal for short distances and for standard checkout operations

Linear image – offers the opportunity to analyse the barcode as it captures an image of it; provides greater accuracy

Laser – for businesses requiring a scanner with much longer range. For example, scanning codes in a storage facility

How to choose a barcode scanner

When thinking of barcode scanners, the typical image that’s likely to spring to mind is of a corded handheld device. Or, you may think of the counter scanners used in big supermarkets.

While these are both common examples, there are a range of scanners available. A key factor to consider though is will a wired or wireless barcode scanner be needed for your business?

Here are some strengths and challenges for each type:

  • Wireless scanners offer a more stylish, discreet option – ideal if your business is design-focused or has limited space
  • As barcode scanners that operate wirelessly rely on the internet, be aware that if the connection goes down, so does your capability to scan products. Similarly, you need to ensure you’re in range of the receiver to use it
  • If you think a wired system involves a pile of tangled cables, then don’t worry – there is the option to use a USB connection with a single wire
  • Wired barcode scanners are a user-friendly choice – just plug it in to get connected
  • However, wires can be unsightly, as well as physically limiting to how far the scanner can move

Which other factors should you consider?

Aside from the style of scanner you want, there are also several other points you need to think about in order to make the best choice for your company, including:

  • Budget
  • Connectivity
  • Design
  • Type

What’s the size of your budget?

This is likely to be one of the questions that drives your decision-making process.

While barcode scanner prices can be a substantial investment for the high-spec devices that big businesses use, entry-level models are an affordable option for start-ups.

You’ll have to balance the cost of the scanner with how much it’ll be used, and how your business will be impacted.

For more information though, you should speak to experts – Startups can help with this. Just complete the form at the top of the page to compare quotes now.

How does it work?

This question should be at the forefront of your decision-making process. Connectivity options include: Bluetooth, wifi, as well as specialised operating systems. Which you choose will depend on the performance levels your business demands from a barcode scanner, as well as the practical requirements of the scanner itself.

How does the design match your business?

In addition to the visual elements, think about which ergonomic features the scanner has that will make it easy and safe for your staff to use. For example, ensure that the wires can be stored properly. For long-range laser scanners, be sure that your staff know how to use them safely.

What types of scanner are available?

By asking this question, you can go beyond the wired-or-wireless debate. There are a range of options available, including handheld or standalone machines, as well as apps that offer barcode scanners online.

We’ll go into more detail about apps in the next section. For the moment, we’ll concentrate on physical devices.

Scanner type Usage level Industry example
Pen Light Home office/business
Handheld Light to medium Small retail/office environments
Pocket/portable Medium Retail shop floor; mobile workers
Omnichannel Heavy Large retail/warehouse environments

Which barcode scanner apps are best for your business?

There are two main types of barcode scanner apps – inventory management and event attendance.

Plus, it’s important to note that these are different from, for example, the basic barcode scanner iPhone apps that simply compare prices or nutritional information.

When using these apps for business, the main focus is to ensure greater accuracy and awareness of your stock levels and product locations.

So, how can your business use barcode scanner apps?

  • Inventory management – manage production information
  • Data collection – collect product details in a central location
  • Asset tracking – know where products are going and when at all times
  • Stock control – ensure stock levels are maintained accurately
  • Event attendance – be aware of guest numbers and arrival times

To help you choose an app that’s best for your business needs, you should consider the following questions:

Can it be customised?

Greater flexibility to alter or extend it will mean you can match the app to your exact business requirements.

Are there alert notifications available?

A reminder when stock levels fall below a certain amount can be crucial as a small business to help you manage orders and provide customer satisfaction.

Which operating systems is it compatible with?

Before you select a particular app, ensure that it will work with your device. While many apps are widely available, some are specifically designed for either iOS or Android operating systems. Check out our business mobile reviews if you’re looking to upgrade your device.

What export options does it have?

While storing data on the cloud is quick, easy and secure, you’re likely to want to transfer that information elsewhere. Check if the app can export data into a spreadsheet, document or other file type. This could be particularly useful to help manage accounting or bookkeeping requirements.

Can the app create QR codes?

While this isn’t essential, by choosing an app that can create QR codes, you can share these on social media and help to increase your customer interaction and network. For example, QR codes can be used to run special offers or promotions.

Cloud storage allows data to be stored virtually. The data can be accessed with a compatible device and an internet connection.

Cloud storage allows data to be stored virtually. The data can be accessed with a compatible device and an internet connection.

How to choose

When choosing an app specifically, it’s a good idea to read the reviews. Look for features that have been praised consistently and also which pain points arise repeatedly. Additionally, ask for recommendations from other small business owners.

Basic apps may be offered free of charge. More extensive business apps may incur a fee, which is usually minimal.

Why should your business invest in barcode scanners?

As a small business owner, cashflow is likely to be a key concern. In this section, we’ll cover what benefits you can expect from barcode scanners and why they’re worth the investment.

Accurate – by using a scanner, your business can benefit from improved accuracy. Locate items easily and price products correctly – barcode scanners can capture data efficiently.

While a manual system may be sufficient for now, consider future growth too – how will you manage an increasing number of products?

Affordable – with a range of options available, you’re bound to find the barcode scanner that matches what your business needs, and your budget too. The initial outlay is reasonable, and it’s a purchase that you don’t need to make too many times.

Time-saving – scanning barcodes is considerably quicker than inputting the same data manually into a computer. This not only saves you time managing your products, but also allows you to serve customers faster as well.

While demand can’t be guaranteed, it figures that if you have more time for each transaction then you can have more customers overall too.

Professional – as well as offering you a more efficient way to manage products and stock, barcodes create a professional image. This helps to create trust and establish your company as reputable, which are essential for success – especially for businesses that are just starting out.

Compare barcode scanners and apps

Now that you’ve learned more about barcode scanners and apps, as well as how to choose the best product for your business, it’s time to consider some options available to you. Here we’ve profiled some of the top barcode scanners and apps.

Wasp WLR8950 SBR Laser Aiming Scanner

The WLR8950 sits just above the brand’s entry-level model in terms of price point. It was chosen for its mix of affordability and features. The laser scanning technology offers a fast scan rate. It also has:

  • Handheld scanner
  • 1D barcode scanner
  • Laser aim assist
  • Suitable for retail and office based businesses
  • Can also be used for inventory operations

Best for: Affordability

Pro: Versatile and durable

Con: A basic system that’s not as custamisable as other models

Cost: £138.00 per unit
(note: this is the cost direct from the supplier, but if you browse sites like ebay, you might find a favourable variation in the cost)

Zebra DS9208 Omnidirectional Scanner

Moving up the scale, the DS9208 offers a versatile scanning solution that can be applied in a range of business settings. Its point-and-shoot scanning – where the barcode and scanner don’t have to align – make it ideal for busy, growing businesses. The DS9208 also offers:

  • Hands-free scanner
  • 1D and 2D scanning capability
  • Compact, mobile design
  • Requires minimal training
  • Ideal for mobile barcode scanning

Best for: Usability

Pro: Minimalist in design and complexity level

Con: Might not have all of the additional functions you’ll need as your business grows

Cost: £179.83 per unit

Scan to Spreadsheet

If you’re thinking about using barcode scanners in your business for the first time, then the Scan to Spreadsheet app by Berry Wing could be a useful starting point.

Operating on a simple concept of scanning barcodes and compiling the information into a spreadsheet, this barcode scanner app provides an accessible and affordable introduction. Its key points are:

  • Available as a barcode scanner on iPhone or on Android
  • Can also be used with external barcode scanners
  • Three step process – scan, email, spreadsheet
  • GPS location function
  • Minimal fee

Best for: Stock management

Pro: Efficient and affordable

Con: Requires regular updates to avoid bugs

Cost: £5.99 per unit

In a nutshell

In this article, we’ve provided an extensive amount of information to teach you about barcode scanner essentials.

This has included explaining what barcode scanners are, along with describing how to choose an app or machine for your business needs. Plus, we’ve highlighted the possible business benefits and offered you a selection of some top products.

Here are the key takeaways:

  • Barcode scanners are the devices that read the unique product codes
  • The two main types are 1D (traditional) and 2D (QR codes) barcodes
  • Barcodes are read by either CCD, linear image or laser technology
  • Wired or wireless barcode scanners are available
  • Factors to consider when making a decision include budget, connectivity, design and type
  • There are a range of scanner types, although handheld barcode scanners are the most familiar
  • Use barcode scanner apps to manage inventory or event attendance
  • Think about app-specific factors to ensure it’s right for your business
  • Consider the benefits to your business of investing in a barcode scanner
  • Complete the form at the top of the page to compare quotes and find the best barcode scanners for small businesses

What are the next steps?

Now that you’ve learned more about barcode scanners, as well as how to choose the best one for your business and which apps can suit your business’ requirements.

For any small business, a barcode scanner will be a key part of their EPOS system. Fill in the form at the top of the page to compare quotes.

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Scarlett Cook
Scarlett Cook

Scarlett writes about a wide range of topics on the site, from business security to digital marketing and EPOS systems. She can also be found writing about diversity and sustainability in business, as well as managing the Just Started profiles.

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