ORLANDO, Fla. — Although the food industry had set June 30 as the date when CPG manufacturers would completely transition to an entirely new bar code — the GS1 DataBar — on coupons, it now appears that many manufacturers will postpone that move until the latter part of this year or beyond.
“I think you'll see a lot of manufacturers waiting until the fourth quarter of this year or the first quarter of 2012,” said John Morgan, executive director, the Association of Coupon Professionals, at the U Connect Live conference here last week. Morgan commented as an audience member at a session on the DataBar. The conference was sponsored by GS1 US, Lawrenceville, N.J., in partnership with VICS.
Given the long development of the DataBar for coupons, another three to six months “won't be the end of the world,” Morgan said.
According to Morgan, Supervalu, Minneapolis, sent a letter to manufacturers indicating that it was not yet prepared to scan and process the DataBar on coupons, prompting many to postpone the DataBar-only rollout.
A Supervalu spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
The DataBar, a robust bar code that will incorporate up to 74 digits on coupons, has been sharing space on manufacturer coupons since 2008 with the traditional but more limited 12-digit UPC-A bar code during an interim phase-in period.
The transition to DataBar-only coupons, originally set to take place in 2010, was postponed for one year after a GS1 US survey in 2009 indicated an insufficient level of POS readiness on the part of retailers, especially smaller retailers. Retailers need to ensure that their POS software and hardware are able to scan and process the DataBar, which in some cases requires system upgrades.
The Joint Industry Coupon Committee (JICC), the industry group that sets coupon policy, set Jan. 1, 2011, as the date manufacturers could begin issuing DataBar-only coupons and June 30 was established as the date for completely switching over to the DataBar.
Last November, GS1 US, which oversees bar-code standards, surveyed the top 43 supermarket, mass and drug retailers that accept coupons and found that 60% to 70% would be ready to scan the DataBar in January, and 70% to 80% would be ready by July.
To date there have been “a few sightings of coupons in circulation with just the DataBar,” said Alan Williams, vice president of application development for Ahold USA, Landover, Md., and co-chair of the JICC, during a presentation he gave at the U Connect DataBar session.
Williams said that the JICC has not officially postponed the June 30 deadline for the final transition to the coupon DataBar. But since the DataBar is a voluntary standard, CPG manufacturers can make their own decisions as to when to make the change, based on their read of retail readiness.
Lauri Martin, senior manager of coupon strategy for Coca-Cola Refreshments, who also spoke at the DataBar session, said manufacturers are “rapidly moving” toward adoption of DataBar-only coupons. “We are holding out a little bit. We want retailers to be ready, and we don't believe enough are ready.”
While the DataBar is a voluntary standard, retailers unable to scan and process it on coupons will be forced to have cashiers handle coupons manually. Williams also urged retailers not to take “shortcuts” in scanning the DataBar by picking out only a few elements off the code for processing.
The DataBar is designed to encapsulate more information than the UPC-A code.
Retailers that scan the DataBar will experience automatic expiration date checking, a reduced need for 992 bypass codes that don't require product validation, reduced cashier intervention, improved scan rates and increased speed of checkout, according to the JICC.