ATLANTA -- The GMA-FMI Joint Industry Coupon Committee endorsed two scannable bar codes as standards to facilitate couponing when it met here on Feb. 16.
The codes are an extended version of UCC/EAN-128, believed to be vital to support wide-scale electronic coupon clearing, and EAN-99. The latter code would allow retailers to program their scanners much more easily to exclude in-store electronic coupons from double-coupon promotions.
David Sefcik, manager of corporate scanning at Giant Food, Landover, Md., said the committee's endorsement of the codes carries a lot of clout with the Uniform Code Council. The UCC's board of govenors is expected to sign on to support initiatives when it meets in late April.
The Grocery Manufacturers of America and Food Marketing Institute joint coupon committee "represents the industry, its recommendations carry a lot of weight," Sefcik said. "These codes are now seen as industry solutions. The 128 code is a necessary step toward the ultimate goal of electronic clearing of coupons."
Although the UCC has yet to give those solutions an official thumbs up, the council has worked hand-in-hand on them with retailers and packaged-goods manufacturers for several years. UCC endorsement is considered likely.
"The codes couldn't have been approved without the technical support of the UCC from the start," Sefcik added. "The board of governors supports this process and has been updated all along," said Tom Brady, UCC spokesman.
A pulic comment period on both codes ends April 10.
Of the two codes, UCC/EAN-128 has the greatest potential impact on couponing. Currently, bar codes printed on coupons identify only the discount and sometimes the product and manufacturer.
A suffix tacked on the end of the 128 code, however, could carry a potentially endless stream of information about the coupon, including where it was "dropped," expiration date, offer code and household code. That information is printed in English or non-scannable codes and must be painstakingly keyed at coupon-clearing houses or optically scann-ed. Most keying in is done by non-English-speaking Mexicans.
"The suffix code standard will pave the way for electronic coupon clearing," said George Off, president of St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Catalina Marketing.
But Catalina and other in-store couponing companies like Actmedia, Norwalk, Conn., and Advanced Promotion Technologies, Pompano Beach, Fla., have the most to gain from the supermarket industry's endorsement of EAN-99 as a standard.
The inability of scanners to easily differentiate between free-standing inserts and in-store coupons has been viewed by retailers as a major drawback of the in-store electronic couponing systems. When most retailers run double-coupon days, they program their scanners to automatically double every coupon. Currently, it is very difficult for retailers to program those machines to exclude in-store coupons.
"We came up with a code number ring-up system so retailers could exclude our coupons from double-coupon promotions, but it was a separate solution for every retailer," Catalina's Off said. "It varied all over the map."
Giant's Sefcik agreed EAN-99 is a relatively easy fix for the problem. "The difference here is that EAN-99 is a standard," he said. "And most POS systems are capable of scanning the EAN code with minor modifications to software."