and created a global, standardized system that could help track everything from boxes of Pop-Tarts to prescription medications.
Now, roughly 5 billion bar codes pass through scanners each day.
But the bar code boom may not last.
Replacing the bar code
Bar codes help computers identify products. But what if computers no longer need the help?
AI and machine vision can identify products holistically, eliminating the need to scan specific parts of product labels.
These technologies have already come into play in Amazon Go, Amazon’s fully automated convenience store that lets shoppers grab products and walk out. Cameras track shoppers throughout the store and charge them automatically for the products they’re carrying when they leave.
News broke yesterday that Amazon plans to open its 2nd and 3rd Amazon Go locations in San Francisco and Chicago.
Meanwhile, smaller technology startups have sprung up to develop checkout automation-as-a-service for retailers.
These startups would have to convince cash-strapped brick-and-mortar retailers to make upfront investments in the technology. But over time, automated checkouts could reduce labor costs and increase shopper satisfaction.
In an ideal world, service would also improve. Store staff could focus on helping shoppers rather than manning cash registers.
Managing staff and checkout lines has clearly been a pain point for Walmart, based on its patent activity.
Throughout its patent applications, Walmart imagines using cameras, weight sensors, and other technologies to identify products without bar codes. One filing even suggests using AI to analyze shoppers’ emotions as they wait in line to ensure no one gets too upset — indicating angry shoppers might be a frequent issue.
As retailers reduce their reliance on bar codes, and the cash registers and checkout lines that go with them, they may need to consider things like:
What will the new front of the store look like?
How will packaging change?
What strategies encourage grab-and-go impulse buys?
What new shopper data can stores collect from automated, mobile payment apps?
CB Insights clients can check out a deeper dive into some of these issues here.