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Retail Numbering Systems
When allocating numbers in a retail environment for products (PLU/SKU), Customers or even clerks, there are two important considerations which can save a massive amount of time and inconvenience later, if care is taken in the beginning. These are:-

  • Ensuring that the numbers used are not the same as are used by any other item that might ever be used.
  • Finding a method to encode the data type into the number will make automated processing much easier for electronic systems. If a convention is adopted so that certain code range indicate that the code is a customer number, other code ranges indicate that a code is a Clerk number etc. then this can simplify processing because sophisticated POS systems such as SELLmatix can tell what type of data has been input from the data itself, reducing the amount of operator input required.

All items sold in a retail environment are identified by a unique number. These numbers are sometimes called PLU numbers SKU numbers Product Numbers etc, but these are all essentially the same thing; a unique number used to identify the product.

For many years now, almost all packaged goods include a barcode printed on the packaging. Barcodes are simply machine readable numbers. The advantages to retailers of these barcodes include:-

  • The barcode number can be read electronically and this is faster and more accurate than manually enter the product number.
  • The barcode numbers printed on product packaging are globally unique. Two different products will never have the same barcode number
  • Retailers need to allocate their own product number for items, and never have to attach PLU number labels because they can simply use the barcode number on the package.
  • Instead of needing to attach a price label to each item in stock, retailers can simply use a shelf label where the goods are displayed and when price changes occur, only the shelf label needs to be changed instead re-pricing each item.
Where products have barcodes printed on the labels, only a masochist would consider any alternative means of product coding and labeling. It is simply a no-brainer.

For many retailers, however not all products the sell have barcode numbers. Such products might be made by small manufacturers that do not have exclusive barcodes, or they may be items made to order such as hamburgers or pizzas. These items that don't have barcodes, will need to have a product number allocated by the store, and it is important to allocate these numbers in a way that the numbers never conflict or duplicate product numbers that may appear in product packaging.

Even if a retailer sells nothing that has printed barcodes on the packaging, and does not plan to do so, it is wise to allocate product numbers in a manner that won't conflict, because at some time in the future, they may extend their product range to include items with barcodes, and when that time comes, then existing products which do conflict would all need to have their product codes changed, This would involve a great deal of work.

Fortunately, avoiding conflicts is easy.

Product barcodes printed on packaging, use a barcode symbology (language) called UPC/EAN. Barcode symbologies are like languages, and they each have different features. If creating your own product labels, you could use any symbology you wish.

In retail environments however, UPC/EAN has been adopted as the standard and compliance with the standards is a normally required if a manufacturer wishes to have their product distributed through normal retail channels. If you manufacture packets of widget, and the barcode number on the packaging is the same as for a can of Coca Cola, then you would have a great deal of difficulty finding retailers to sell the product or wholesalers to distribute the produce. In reality, manufacturers are forced to comply with the standards.

Actually UPC is a compatible subset of EAN which is used in the US. Other countries use EAN. These barcodes are either 8 or 13 digits long (12 for some UPC) and this number is divided into three parts as follows:-

  1. Country Code appears as the first 3 digits.
  2. Manufacturer Code appears as the following "n" digits which vary in length according to the size of the manufacturer.
  3. Manufacturer's product code made up of the remaining digits.
The Country Code part of the barcode is administered by the GS1 organisation which was previously called EAN International.

Looking at the GS1 Prefix List you can see that, for example, a GS1 prefix of 560 indicates Portugal, 775 indicates Peru, 865 indicates Mongolia etc.

Management of the remaining digits in the UPC/EAN barcode is carried out locally by GS1 Member Organisations in over 100 countries.

When a manufacturer needs a range of barcode numbers to use on their packaging, they apply to their local GS1 Member Organisations for a range of numbers to be allocated.

Naturally a take-away food shop would not want to bother contacting their local GS1 Member Organisations to allocate a product code for their hamburgers. Nor would the GS1 Member Organisation be interested in doing so.

Of course if a bakery was making pies that were sold in a range of retail stores, then they would want to have a unique barcode number allocated and would need to contact their local GS1 Member Organisation.

In the GS1 Prefix List you will see that there are several ranges called "Restricted distribution (MO defined)". While this might sound obscure, it means that the sequence of numbers beginning in this range will never be allocated to a manufacturer as a standard barcode number, and that these ranges can be safely used for other purposes. The previous description by EAN International for the range 20-29 was "Reserved for In Store Use".

In other words, if all codes you allocate begin with the number "2" then you can be certain that this number will never be duplicated on the packaging for any other product. Start your numbers with a '2', and are safe from number conflicts.

Taking this one step further, the same barcode scanner that is used to sell products, can also be used for other purposes. For example:-

  • If you sell to customers on account, you can print customer cards which have their customer account number printed as a barcode. The customer can simply present the card at the point of sale to have purchases charged to their account.
  • Where discounts are given to certain customers, the same customer card can be scanned, so that the appropriate discount is automatically applied.
  • Promotional Coupons can have barcodes printed so that the appropriate action is taken automatically.
  • Instead of Clerks needing to log on, they can have a Clerk ID card printed with a photo and a barcode, and this card can be scanned so they can clerk on. This is more secure than entering a clerk code manually.
Advanced Point of Sale systems such as SELLmatix support these type of features, however when the barcode is scanned, they need to know whether the number scanned is a product, a customer number, a clerk code or coupon. If you adopted a convention where:-

  • product numbers allocated in store begin with "20"
  • Customer numbers begin with "29"
  • Clerk numbers begin with "28"
  • Coupons begin with "27"
Of course there are other ways to avoid number collisions. This is just one extremely simple method that will always work. Whether you adopt this system or some other is not particularly important, but five minutes thought when allocating numbers in a retail environment can save many hours of unnecessary work later if product numbers need to be changed.

In SELLmatix Point of Sale, the configuration of barcode prefixes is handled in Barcode Scanner Config on The Tools Menu. SELLmatix also supports a number of other techniques to achieve the same objective, which can be used where you already have customer, clerk and product numbers allocated and it is inconvenient to change.

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