Barcodes vs. RFID – Are Barcodes Better than RFID Tags for Product Data in Retail, Logistics and Healthcare?

Enterprises have two basic options for storing product data for mobile capture: barcodes and RFID tags. Every organization has a unique situation with specific needs. But in most circumstances, barcodes will prove to be a more cost-efficient and viable option for data storage than RFID.

The biggest advantage of barcodes is cost. Virtually all products across all industries come pre-labeled with barcodes. On the supplier side, labeling products with barcodes is a routine cost of doing business. This means companies do not have to ask their supply chain partners to make any additional investments.

There are also a number of industry-specific advantages to storing product data in barcode format. Following are overviews of key benefits barcodes offer organizations operating in the retail, logistics and healthcare spaces.

Retail
Retailers using barcodes to store product data will not be faced with the prospect of being asked by supply chain partners to shoulder part or all of their RFID-related costs. In addition, retailers can leverage existing barcode-related investments.

Retail supply chain, store and IT environments are built around the barcode as the central source of product information. Databases, as well as tracking and analytic solutions, are already customized to collect and drill down into data recorded from barcodes.

And despite their low individual price, the sheer number of required RFID tags creates a heavy cost for retailers operating on narrow margins. Additional back-end customization may be necessary for sorting and analyzing data. Suppliers may balk at the hefty cost of RFID-tagging products. This is especially true if their other supply chain partners do not use RFID technology.

RFID has been on the retail industry’s radar screen since the early 2000s. In that time, more than one major retail chain has implemented an RFID mandate on its suppliers. Yet there has still never been a widespread use case for RFID in retail. Retailers have been regularly using barcodes since the 1970s. The benefits of barcodes in the retail supply chain are long proven.

For more information on how cloud-based mobile capture and mobile barcode scanning technology can support retailers’ product data storage and tracking efforts, download the white paper Enabling Seamless Retail with Mobile Data Capture.

Logistics
Effective use of RFID in a logistics environment requires a substantial infrastructure investment. In addition to tags, logistics organizations must also invest in tag printers, fixed and/or portable readers, middleware, and supporting network technology.

For a larger enterprise, the resulting cost could run into the millions of dollars. There also may be related consulting and training expenses. To fully realize the benefits of RFID, logistics enterprises will also need to ask their supply chain partners to make RFID investments.

Unlike barcodes, RFID also presents a number of potential environmental performance issues. Standard RFID tags may not work well in tracking liquid products. Metal can also disrupt the transmission of RFID signals.

In contrast, logistics organizations only need to invest in simple mobile data capture solutions to take advantage of existing product barcodes. By using cloud-based applications running on standard mobile devices, companies can minimize the associated overhead.

See how Swiss Federal Railways streamlines tracking processes across Switzerland’s railroad network using Scandit mobile barcode scanning and data capture technology. Read the case study. 

Healthcare
Healthcare organizations can effectively distribute mobile data capture activities to caregivers and even patients in the field using barcodes. Patient care apps enable healthcare professionals to have access to patient records and improve care with the scan of a barcode.

Meanwhile, both customers and employees can directly obtain drug-related information and pharmacy fulfillment functionality through a barcode-based mobile app. RFID technology does not lend itself to this type of data capture and dispersal by untrained personnel and consumers in the field.

Learn more about how Cardinal Health leverages the Scandit Barcode Scanner SDK to let pharmaceutical customers use its Order Express mobile app to order items including prescriptions and over-the-counter medications online. Read the case study.