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Almost every business experiences inefficiency when digitizing data from physical barcodes and IDs. The trick is knowing how to turn this inefficiency into opportunity.

Technology is a core driver of business value. But as companies modernize their systems, a significant source of value remains untapped: barcode and ID scanning.

Delivery guy checking an ID

Barcode scanning and ID checks are core data capture processes that connect physical goods, services and people with digital infrastructure. Legacy barcode scanning and ID checking methods, however, are limited in form and function.

Ignoring these limitations hinders businesses’ ability to compete. Challenges created by outdated systems and manual processes slow down frontline workers and frustrate customers – leading to a scanning technology debt that grows over time.

Much of an employee’s time can be spent compensating for outdated data capture workflows. Consider a retail worker trying to aim a barcode scanner toward a product on a high stockroom shelf, failing to pinpoint its barcode and having to use a ladder to reach it instead. Or a delivery driver verifying customers’ IDs manually against a database at every stop.

proof of delivery in front of van

With over 10 billion barcodes scanned per day (a number that has doubled in the last decade), and ID cards now used for everything from airport checks to daily business transactions, relying on legacy approaches severely curtails efficiency and generates significant business risks.

Flexible modern commodity smart devices and software-driven barcode and ID scanning features improve usability, efficiency and data accuracy. They are a quick-win way to reduce scanning technology debt and improve employee satisfaction, customer experience (CX) and regulatory compliance.

90%

of drivers are irritated by a lack of functionality in their devices for operational post and parcel delivery tasks.

Source: Driver Technology in the Last Mile – Scandit

What is scanning technology debt?

Scanning technology debt is the sum of known and hidden costs incurred when businesses do not address inefficiencies and ineffectiveness in barcode and ID scanning workflows.

An example of scanning technology debt is in receiving goods. That the barcode on every package needs to be scanned in is non-negotiable. However, legacy methods that scan a single barcode at a time can be as much as ten times slower compared to smart data capture solutions that batch scan multiple barcodes at once.

Similar to financial debt, the longer it takes to remediate suboptimal performance, the more costly it is to address. Consider adding more frontline staff to a shipping facility – scanning delays now will only solidify and be harder to fix over time.

As scanning technology debt accumulates, workers become less efficient and customers get frustrated. Businesses rely on putting out short-term fires, such as adding more manual steps in an ID validation workflow, rather than implementing strategies to fix core problems.

There will always be some level of scanning technology debt – other business needs tend to take precedence – but taking steps to mitigate it earlier reduces the risk of serious problems later.

The hidden costs of legacy scanning

Scanning technology debt may be overlooked, but its impacts have been felt since the first barcode was used to label railway cars.

Any business dependent on barcodes and IDs will have some level of known debt and an undercurrent of hidden costs waiting to impact business operations:

  • Known: The result of taking shortcuts with full awareness of the choice and consequences. For example, a development team upgrading their tech stack while choosing to maintain a legacy single-purpose barcode scanner running on old hardware.
  • Hidden: Inefficiencies and issues that are unaccounted for and grow into bigger, potentially unrecoverable problems. For example, an older barcode scanner that scans one item at a time, with a high error rate, when a warehouse manager expects workers to shrink putaway cycle times. Leaders may be unaware that newer software can reduce false positives, scan even damaged codes, and scan multiple items at once.

Left unchecked, these costs add to scanning technology debt over time, increasing the drag on operational efficiency, employee satisfaction, customer experience and business value.

The hidden costs of scanning for frontline workers

At a time when attracting and retaining frontline workers is a challenge, the need to upgrade scanning workflows has never been greater. Requiring frontline workers to spend time on tedious, error-prone manual data capture leads to frustration, mistakes and incomplete or unreliable back-end information.

Grocery Store Shelves
 

  • Inefficient workflows: Outdated, manual and repetitive single-item scanning processes hinder productivity. Imagine a stockroom employee forced to scan barcodes one at a time with no guidance as to what has been scanned and what hasn’t. They will take much longer and be far more likely to make errors than an employee capable of batch scanning multiple items simultaneously, or one provided with information via augmented reality as to what codes have already been scanned.
  • Lack of real-time help: Frontline workers often lack real-time insights and decision support, for tasks such as maintaining stock levels, picking items and discounting goods. The longer it takes for an employee to look up information, the more transactions and customers are delayed.
  • Steep learning curve: Legacy scanning systems rely on training and acquired knowledge (such as how to hold the scanner, what to do if a barcode can’t be scanned, where to find product information). In industries with high staff turnover, this slow onboarding is an ongoing drag on productivity.

Example: Barcode Scanning Productivity in Retail In-Store Order Fulfillment

Total number of orders per day
Avg. number of items per order
Picker salary per hour [$]
Avg. order value [$]

Avg. hardware time to scan per item [seconds]

2500
15
$15
$35

5.53

Total hours needed for scanning with current solution per day 57.61

Source: Scandit research

This table shows the total labor hours across all employees needed for in-store order fulfillment in a European retail store using legacy hardware (anonymized). Given an average picker salary of $15 per hour, these hours add up to $864 in wages per day, or over $200,000 a year, spent on scanning alone.

The barcode scanning process can easily be sped up by upgrading legacy hardware and/or software. Even a 10% improvement delivers significant cost savings at scale.

The hidden costs of scanning for customer experience

Customer experience (CX) is measured by how customers engage with the business from the
moment they consider a purchase to how they resolve issues post-sale. There is untapped potential in using scanning solutions to make their journey as clear, easy and efficient as possible.

Retail Grocery Coupons instore
 

  • Poor UX in B2C applications: Slow and outdated in-store scanning interfaces hinder customers’ ability to find information and take action. They can also confuse and frustrate users when the UX doesn’t match the store’s online experience.
  • Slow customer service: The more time frontline workers spend on tedious manual scanning tasks, the less time they have to deliver great customer service.
  • Broken omnichannel support: To improve the omnichannel experience, businesses must know the location and quantity of products at all times – typically accomplished by tracking the movement of goods using barcodes. This is difficult to achieve with slow and inaccurate scanning technologies, leaving businesses without the information necessary to support effective omnichannel CX.
43%

of consumers find long wait times frustrating.

Source: Netomi

The hidden costs of scanning for business value

Business leaders expect more from their systems and processes. Today’s enterprises require fast, accurate and comprehensive barcode and ID scanning data to improve decision-making and reduce business risk.

  • Limited single-purpose scanning devices: Outdated technologies and inflexible solutions lock businesses into hardware that is more expensive than commodity smart devices, and workflows that cannot adapt to changing market forces.
  • Data accuracy: Inaccurate and difficult-to-use scanning devices produce incomplete and suspect data on the back end, hindering effective business decision-making.
  • Security risks: Customers and businesses risk security exposure if connected, cloud-based solutions are not compliant with modern data security and privacy laws. These issues are often exacerbated by frontline workers, frustrated by older technologies, creating “shadow IT” workarounds (such as WhatsApp groups) to share data.
  • Insufficient audit trails: Businesses that require a complete and current account of ID checks performed (for example, when delivering age-restricted goods) struggle with the gaps and inaccuracies of manual record keeping.
60%

of SKUs are affected by inventory record inaccuracies.

Source: ECR Retail Loss

4 ways to capture new business value with smarter scanning workflows

Business leaders must adopt a new scanning playbook to reduce inefficiencies, empower employees and better meet their business objectives.

1. Shift tedious scanning from people to technology

Move beyond the limitations of manual processes. Automate and introduce value-added capabilities into scanning workflows.

This enables workers to focus on tasks that require human expertise and reduces the time spent on tedious, error-prone tasks. It creates a virtuous cycle, where frontline worker satisfaction, customer experience, productivity and data accuracy are all improved.

For example, conventional wisdom suggests that damaged barcodes and poor lighting conditions are best handled by training employees on additional manual steps and upgrading facilities. With modern scanning solutions, these expenses and efforts are eliminated through software solutions that automatically compensate for less-than-ideal conditions.

2. Leverage scanning to connect the frontline

Barcode scanning and/or ID checks are key entry points into many frontline workflows (for example, in-store order fulfillment, warehouse operations or above-the- wing operations). Making existing barcode or ID scanning workflows smarter by augmenting them with real-time, actionable insights is a simple, low-effort way to connect the frontline.

Smarter scanning fosters data democratization, where everyone is empowered to access, understand and act on information on the spot, regardless of their role, location or level of technical expertise.

It’s the difference between missing inventory items left unchecked and store employees being advised automatically and immediately of a problem. Or store associates forced to Google product information rather than scanning a product in-store using an enterprise app to get real-time insights for the expectant customer.

Make your scanning smarter today

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3. Build on B2C self-scanning apps

Compelling digital experiences start by giving customers a greater sense of control and self-confidence. By building advanced capabilities such as augmented reality on top of existing B2C self-scanning mobile apps, brick-and-mortar stores can provide blended experiences.

These combine the traditional benefits of physical retail (i.e., the ability to touch and try on items) with digital technology that supports personalized experiences, in-store promotions and more.

4. Pivot on software to foster flexibility

Flexibility is critical to meet the changing needs of consumers, workers and businesses. Whether faced with new development environments, different devices or evolving business needs, shifting your pivot point from scanning hardware to scanning software is the means to achieving adaptability to different situations.

Depending on the business need, software-based scanning solutions enable:

  • Support for a wide range of devices and the ability to mix and match dedicated scanners, company-owned commodity smartphones, BYOD programs, drones and robots.
  • Plug-and-play capabilities such as pre-built UI components and scanning multiple barcodes.
    Development in different software environments and technology stacks to suit the needs of the business.
  • Extensibility to additional capabilities (such as augmented reality) as business needs evolve.
6 in 10

organizations plan to invest in digital technology to bolster their supply chain processes, data synthesis and analysis capabilities.

Source: KPMG

Bridging the gap towards modern scanning solutions

Organizations reducing scanning technology debt procure solutions that balance user benefits against development and integration efforts. Here are some of the key smart barcode and ID scanning features to look out for.

Key smart barcode scanning features

Speed and accuracy:

Industry-leading smart barcode scanning can scan significantly faster and more accurately than legacy or open-source solutions.

SparkScan ergonomic scanner retail

Batch scanning:

Solutions that can scan multiple barcodes at once.

Scandit MatrixScan Count being used for cycle counting in retail

Robust in any environment:

Scanning solutions that work in all types of environments and effortlessly capture data even from damaged, obscured, and awkwardly placed barcodes.

Augmented reality:

Overlays that provide useful, real-time information at the point of data capture – alerts, stock or product information, promotions or personalized offers.

In-store order picker using augmented reality (AR) on a smartphone to find a product

Key smart ID scanning features

Speed and accuracy:

Rapid ID scanning and fake ID detection. Modern smart ID scanning can offer almost instant results and close to 100% accuracy.

Scandit ID Verify software showing whether an ID is real or fake.

Scan IDs offline:

Cloud-based solutions are often not fit for purpose in real-world identity verification scenarios that work under limited or no internet access.

Standardized workflows:

Solutions that support frontline workers with prompts and alerts to improve compliance and create a clear audit trail.

Secure on-device processing:

Protecting sensitive information and preventing unauthorized access is critical for businesses. Smart ID scanning solutions can process all data on the device for added security.

Other features to look for

To capture new value fast and ensure fast integration, flexibility and future-proofing, organizations also typically look for:

  • Broad platform support and hardware decoupling: The days of scanner products tied to a specific combination of hardware and software are over. Mobile device innovations support the implementation of software-defined capabilities deployable to various devices as the business demands. They can run successfully even on low-end consumer smartphones that lack auto-focus.
  • Pre-built scanning user interfaces (UI): User experience is the cornerstone of efficient operations and happy users. It also takes expertise and time to get scanning UI right. Advanced scanning solutions apply expert UX research and principles to features deployable by the development team. Once integrated, these features accelerate workflows, increase user satisfaction and reduce the risk of human error.
  • Enterprise-class security: Security is non-negotiable, as the data collected by barcode and ID scanners crosses customers and enterprises. Scanning solutions should ensure compliance with data security and privacy regulations, including on-device protections, in-transit data encryption, and cloud infrastructure security.
  • Robust developer support: Scanning solutions should streamline the initial implementation and facilitate ongoing customization and growth. Pre-built code samples, in-depth documentation and expert human support help developers integrate scanning features fast without impacting other business priorities.

Scanning apps have similarities to other camera-based apps such as Snapchat – but they’re very different to an e-commerce app or something like WhatsApp. If you’re used to designing apps used solely on screen, and apply the same UX processes to scanning design, you run the risk of it going wrong.

Maiya Shur, Scandit Director and Head of UX

The path to smarter scanning workflows is faster than you think

As technology evolves, outdated barcode and ID scanning technologies silently contribute to worker dissatisfaction, subpar customer experiences and increased business risks.

Adopting modern smart data capture solutions is a strategic investment in the success and resilience of businesses. By adhering to the core principles of this paper, organizations can make the leap quickly and efficiently, unlocking scanning capabilities that accelerate value rather than drag performance.

 

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