Global Barcode Switch Threatens Retail Problems

Potential for lost sales, bad pricing spreads fear.

With U.S. retailers preparing to switch their bar codes from 12 to 13 digits in January, the potential glitches—including possible bad prices and lost sales—are causing more than minimal nervousness.

American retailers have been using the 12-digit UPC code on products since 1974. Foreign manufacturers, however, have used the 13-digit EAN code and have had to relabel products for the U.S.

“Its not going to be a Y2K-type issue — theres no real gloom-and-doom scenarios," said Jeff Oddo, spokesman for the Uniform Code Council. "But if 13-digit products come into [retailers] warehouses and theyre not ready for it, it may mean some customer service interruptions."

For consumers, that means waiting in line while clerks search for and hand-enter codes for imported items.

Retailers will change over cash registers and scanners but there may be problems initially. “From a consumer perspective its an inconvenience," said Ray Tromba, director of retail application management systems for IBM Global Services. "But from the retailers perspective, theres the possibility of lost sales, potentially incorrect pricing on items…and some retailers might not be able to carry the same items their competitor does."

Read the entire Atlanta Journal-Constitution story here.