In 2005, retailers are processing longer and more variable product bar codes, but bar codes on coupons were left out of the equation.
Coupon bar codes, with fixed six-digit manufacturer codes, are ill-equipped to handle the changes that have been brought under 2005 Sunrise, which could lead to more mis-redemptions at the checkout, observers noted.
Thus, a group known as the Joint Industry Coupon Committee (JICC) has proposed a plan to re-engineer the coupon bar code that would phase in a reduced space symbology (RSS) code. JICC is comprised of the Uniform Code Council, the Association of Coupon Professionals, Grocery Manufacturers Association and Food Marketing Institute.
The group's latest draft proposal for migration to a new coupon bar code, issued last October, outlines a schedule that would require retailers to scan and process the RSS coupon bar code by 2008. Issuance of a finalized work plan, including the presentation of new coupon standards, is expected by June. The new RSS Expanded bar code will hold up to 70 digits of information.
"It will be a sweeping change," said Larry Fox, vice president, Pinpoint Data, a North Plainfield, N.J.-based coupon facilitator. Coupon bar codes will contain a variety of information -- such as offers, expiration date and purchase requirements -- often processed manually, helping ensure proper validation, he noted.
The JICC recently made progress toward its goal when representatives from Target, Ahold and Kroger volunteered to test RSS scanners and coupon software in their corporate labs, according to Jane Michels, president of J Michels Consulting, Bloomington, Ind., and co-chair of the ACP's Sunrise/Re-engineering Workgroup.
Some scanners updated for 2005 are RSS-ready or can be easily adjusted to read RSS codes. About one-third of NCR's scanner base is currently RSS-capable, said John Wilson, product manager, bi-optic scanners, NCR, Atlanta. Still, the retailer tests are aimed at reassuring retailers that "RSS can be read and they don't have to go buy totally new [scanning] equipment," said Michels. UCC in its compliance checklists notes that 14-digit GTIN compliance "does not assume the ability to scan RSS symbols," though RSS bar codes have typically contained 14 digits.
The tests should help food distribution executives like Carl D. Marks, senior vice president, strategic planning, projects & information services, Associated Grocers, Baton Rouge, La. Although Associated's remediation strategies will accommodate 14-digit bar codes, "there is some concern that bar-code scanning equipment at the [point of sale] will be unable to read RSS," he said.
Meanwhile, RSS coupon-decoding software has yet to be developed. Specific deadlines are unclear, but Target, Ahold and Kroger, "will do a ton of testing before [the software] gets to other retailers," said Michels.
In addition, JICC expected to hire consultants to conduct return-on-investment analysis on the costs and benefits for retailer and manufacturer migrations to the RSS coupon bar code.
Meanwhile, some retailers are already using RSS-capable scanners and software such as the latest release of NCR's ACS POS solution to test RSS codes to more accurately identify meat and produce, said Wilson. NCR's Human Factors Engineering team did a study with a retailer that showed a $17,000 loss from misidentifying hot-house tomatoes, said Rock Wight, NCR's director, solution marketing. RSS codes could also help in recalls of tainted meat, Wight noted.