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Streamlining On-Pack Barcodes for Limitless Consumer Engagement Opportunities

Multiple codes on product packaging can cause confusion. Here’s a solution.




By Melanie Nuce, Senior Vice President, Corporate Development, GS1 US

Today, consumers have access to the widest product selection in history. It’s no wonder consumer research is an essential part of the purchasing process now, rather than the impulse, in-the-moment buys that were previously the norm. As consumers, we need to do our due diligence to make sure a product fits our increasingly specific needs. Does this soap contain palm oil? Which granola bars are gluten free? Brands are evolving product packaging to provide answers to such questions.

For many brands, the solution has been to add smartphone-friendly data-rich two-dimensional (2D) barcodes alongside the product’s U.P.C. to enable more meaningful consumer engagement opportunities. By turning the package into an information portal, these barcodes often lead to offers, recipes, and insights into the product’s journey to the shelf. But just as important as the information itself is the ease by which consumers access that information.

More Codes, More Confusion?

The proliferation of multiple codes on product packaging can cause confusion for consumers as well as trading partners, who expect to easily access trustworthy product information without friction.

Recognizing that this is an opportunity to streamline product packaging, brands, retailers, and solution providers have been collaborating on a non-proprietary way to make products smarter and enable multiple, ever-changing experiences with one scan. GS1 Digital Link is a standard that allows brands to Web-enable barcodes and provide consumers with rich product information. By scanning a 2D barcode (i.e., QR code or Data Matrix) that’s encoded with GS1 Digital Link, users can gain access to unlimited and instantly-updated, brand-authorized content online.


For example, many QR codes today lead to static sets of data that may list basic information such as allergens or product certifications. They are the same for each consumer who scans them. Through GS1 Digital Link, consumers shopping at their local grocery store can have access to coupons and promotions that are specifically available at that store, based on seasonality and store inventory.

Multiple Experiences, Diverse Uses

The ability to serve up dynamic product information means potentially limitless opportunities from a consumer engagement standpoint, but a Web-enabled barcode is useful for retailer business processes, too. Similar to how the U.P.C. functions today, a GS1 Digital Link-enabled barcode leverages Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs) for product identification for price look-up and inventory management. But when the GTIN is embedded into a 2D data carrier using GS1 Digital Link, it has the ability to hold more data and connects the physical product to the Web. This can mean faster and more accurate product traceability, as well as product authentication through access to expanded product details. Retail associates can access additional information such as the batch/lot or serial number, which can help prevent fraudulent returns.

Just imagine–with a quick scan of a single code, a retail associate can immediately gauge a product’s freshness by accessing expiration dates and product status, leading to optimal recall management and an overall safer purchase. Shoppers can be notified of expired products pre- and post-purchase and retailers can give automatic discounts of nearly‑ expired products at checkout.

A Turning Point for Packaging?

From a packaging perspective, eliminating multiple on-pack barcodes frees up space for brand expression while also supporting industry’s need for a more robust data carrier. To dynamically change product information on the fly, instantly, and as often as needed with no impact on product design, may be a turning point for industry. Brands will be Web-enabling products with both higher efficiency and higher artistic value.


Using this standards-based approach to connecting products through GS1 Digital Link also allows brands to begin to prepare for the next era beyond the U.P.C.’s four decades-long tenure. Recent GS1 US research revealed that 82% of retailers and 92% of brand owners support transitioning from the U.P.C. to a data-rich 2D barcode within the next five years because of the consumer-driven need for more product information.

Ultimately, the world has changed–consumers seek transparency in order to trust a brand and information is the greatest currency exchanged between buyer and seller. A Web-enabled barcode represents an important transition to streamlined packaging and diverse consumer and trading partner engagement opportunities, all made possible through industry collaboration and the prioritization of the consumer’s needs.

About the Author

As senior vice president of corporate development at GS1 US, Melanie Nuce leads a team that investigates new technologies, partnerships and business opportunities to increase the relevance and reach of GS1 Standards—the most widely used supply chain standards in the world. She oversees the exploration of collaboration opportunities to help businesses leverage emerging technologies including the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, and machine learning. Ms. Nuce has more 20 years of retail supply chain experience, focusing in recent years on retail industry collaboration to improve inventory accuracy, exchanging standardized product data and achieving source to store supply chain visibility.   

BXP elevates the value of innovative and collaborative brand package design as a strategic business competence across the omni-channel path to purchase, to ultimately help consumer facing and retail brands deliver more relevant experiences that connect with shoppers, win at shelf, own the moment of sale and maximize brand loyalty.

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