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40 years of the barcode in our day-to-day life

It’s been four decades since the first barcode was scanned in the UK on 2 October 1979. While that might not seem like a big deal in the general scheme of things, it helped to usher in the beginning of a new age of modern commerce.

40 years of the barcode in the UK


Then and now

From shopping for groceries, to paying for products online, barcodes have had an extraordinary effect on our lives and how we process data in the information age:

Melrose tea bags

UK’s first scan

The first barcode scan in the UK took place at Keymarkets in Spalding, Lincolnshire.

world barcodes

The world over

Currently, two million organisations across the planet use GS1 barcodes.

crowd of people

Beep beep

More than 70,000 barcodes are scanned around the world every second of every day.

Nine things that the barcode has changed

Discover how the unique barcode has transformed our everyday lives:

tracking with deliveries

Live tracking of deliveries

The barcode has enabled both shoppers and businesses to follow the journey of their orders, from purchase to delivery.

Shopping instore

Speedier shopping in store

Instead of having to key in the price of all the items in your basket, barcodes have enabled new technology to speed up the check out process and introduce self-scanning.  

Online listings

Authentication of online listings

Each product is assigned a unique barcode assigned to the brand owner, meaning online stores can guarantee the products they are selling are authentic.

Event tickets

Access to your favourite events

Most event organisers use barcodes on their tickets. Not only for your booking information but to also ensure your tickets are genuine so there is no getting turned away at the door to your favourite show.

Creating a safer healthcare environment

Creating a safer healthcare environment

Now barcodes are used in healthcare to identify and track different aspects of a patient’s care journey – making it safer, and more efficient. 

Travelling the world

Mobile travel tickets

Travel has been made that bit easier with barcoded mobile tickets, providing quick access to your pass to anywhere in the world! There’s no more waiting for tickets to be posted or collected before departure.

stock checking clothes

Automatic stock check

RFID tags provide live updates on the number of items available at any one time, so you can check whether your size is in stock and at which store.

Fitness apps and dietary information

Instant access to dietary information

Fitness apps such as MyFitnessPal rely on barcodes to access dietary information on the products you consume, helping you stay on top of your health goals.

counterfeit products

Preventing counterfeit products

Product barcodes have provided a stamp of brand authenticity to reduce the prevalence of counterfeits making it to market. Fraudulent products can quickly be identified and eliminated before reaching the consumer.

What the future has in store

The humble barcode has made the transition from the analogue to the digital age, but where is it going next?



Will drive towards ever greater levels of recycling and the ultimate goal of a zero-waste society.

Product ID

Verified by GS1

Will ensure that the information representing your products online is optimised for sellers and buyers alike.

Digital Link

Digital Link

Will enable a single barcode to fulfil multiple use cases and connect with an unlimited number of online resources.

Making a difference over 5 billion times a day

Retail, online, foodservice or health? Global GS1 standards make it faster, cheaper and safer for you to serve your customers - in any market and in any country.

How has the barcode changed your life?

Let us know using the hashtag #40yearsofthebarcode