GS1 DataBar™ Coupon Code Postponed?

The August 11, 2009 recommendation by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) on behalf of the Joint Industry Coupon Committee (JICC) that the final phase of implementation of GS1 DataBar for Coupon Codes be delayed one year, until January 1, 2011, may sound like a serious blow to GS1's plans for GS1 DataBar implementation. And since GS1 DataBar is key to using bar codes to identify loose produce, some have begun to wonder whether it is still on track.
But the news is rather misleading. It's not GS1 DataBar that's being delayed. In the early days of U.P.C. product marking, retailers were reluctant to install scanners until a majority of products had U.P.C. symbols on them. Manufacturers were reluctant to start printing U.P.C. symbols until retailers were able to scan them. That's not the case today. Anyone who uses coupons will recognize that some coupons, notably those for major national brands, already contain a DataBar symbol in addition to the UPC-A symbol. The recommendation by JICC is not to delay printing the GS1 DataBar symbol on coupons but rather that the UPC-A symbol should not be removed by January 1, 2010 as previously planned. The concern is that some retailers' point-of-sale (POS) systems may not be capable of reading the GS1 DataBar symbol but, more importantly, that a significant proportion of POS software may not be capable of accepting the additional data provided by GS1 DataBar -- and may not be able to parse it for the data in the existing UPC-A symbol. In other words, the recommendation is that the status quo be prolonged for an additional 12 months (until January 1, 2011) to allow retailers to develop the capabilities to take advantage of the additional data in DataBar coupon codes. That means you'll continue to see a variety of symbols on coupons: UPC-A, GS1-128, and GS1 DataBar. The significant benefit of the GS1 DataBar coupon symbol is that it can contain coupon values up to $99.99. It can also contain additional details about the offer such as product variant or quantity, pairing of products required for discount, and expiration date. This capability provides coupon issuers greater control over redemption at POS by enabling automatic validation that the order meets the issuer's requirements. It also simplifies the task for cashiers by eliminating the need to read the fine print on the coupon and to manually check that requirements are met. These additional capabilities are not currently supported by many retailers’ POS software. And, although the DataBar symbol also contains the same data as the UPC-A symbol, current software may not be able to extract the UPC-A data from the GS1 DataBar symbol. This is why the JICC has recommended retaining the UPC-A symbol for another year. What does this mean for loose produce which will also use GS1 DataBar? In many cases, it will mean nothing at all. Unlike coupons, loose produce is not an existing application and will not require database changes. GS1 DataBar symbols on loose produce can, in many cases, already be read by existing POS scanners. The data in these symbols will be compatible with existing databases. In other words, because it is a new application that adds bar codes to items that could not previously be labeled, it is not a disruption of the status quo but merely an extension of it. While this may seem a bit contradictory, in essence it should be no more disruptive than adding a series of new grocery items to the existing product database. While the JICC recommends maintaining the UPC-A symbol for the interim, it also recommends that, “Despite the deferred implementation position of the committee, the JICC encourages retailers to proceed with implementation of the GS1 DataBar as soon as they are ready and not wait until the 2011 date.” What it all comes down to is not a question of whether GS1 DataBar will be implemented by retail -- for coupons or loose produce -- but rather how fast retailers will move to take advantage of the symbology's significant benefits.