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GS1 UK celebrates 50 years of digitalisation in commerce and calls for collaboration towards next-generation barcodes

The GTIN – the number behind the barcode – was developed 50 years ago and transformed the global economy

London, 31 March 2021 – On the 50th anniversary of the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN), GS1 UK reflects on the moment when leaders from the biggest names in commerce came together to transform the global economy.

This numerical code, which starts in the UK with ‘50’, was created to uniquely identify every single product and is the core of the barcode. This led directly to the creation of the most important supply chain standard in history - a barcode, which is scanned over six billion times every day and remains one of the most trusted symbols in the world.

This technology has also had a significant impact on UK businesses, with the BBC labelling the GTIN’s global implementation as one of “the 50 things that made the world economy.”

Anne Godfrey, CEO of GS1 UK, said: “It is incredible to see the significant impact the GTIN has had on our global economy. In the UK we have also deployed the standard in healthcare to support initiatives like Scan4Safety, which continues to save the NHS millions of pounds and thousands of lives.

“At GS1 UK we have collaboration as a core value and collaboration developed the GTIN; delivered supply chain resilience throughout COVID-19 and will bring innovation to on-pack labelling to meet consumer needs.

“As we see more members than ever joining GS1 UK to trade direct to consumer it is important that their product data can be trusted to inform and protect the consumer. The GTIN is key to this whether online or in store and I look forward to seeing how in partnership with our members we can drive further innovation.”

Origins of the GTIN

The 1971 meeting took place in New York and included leaders from the biggest names in groceries, retail and consumer goods at the time, including Heinz, General Mills, Kroger and Bristol Meyer.

The GTIN was created to boost the speed and efficiency of transactions and processes in food and retail supply chains, helping manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, and consumers. It would also safeguard customers, ensuring that products possessing a GTIN were authentic and enabling traceability on the production of these goods.

To commemorate this milestone, GS1 UK takes you on a whistle-stop tour of the 5 top retail trends of the past and predicts what the future trends will be.

Past trends

1) ePOS (electric point of sale) systems wouldn’t have been able to function without GTIN and barcode technology in place. These transformational till systems enabled retailers to generate detailed data reports, providing businesses with greater trading insight that could drive supply chain efficiencies and generate revenue.

2) The 90’s saw a surge in ecommerce, with retail giants such as Amazon, eBay and Tesco reinventing how consumers shop, and continues to gain popularity, especially in the last year when in-person shopping was restricted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. To this day, retailers need assurance that they have access to accurate data and that the products they are selling are safe and legitimate for consumers, all of which the GTIN provides.

3) Data-driven loyalty programmes, such as supermarket club cards, have also seen a huge rise in popularity over the last two decades. With retailers wanting to drive consumer loyalty through personalised offers driven from data and insights.

4) Personalisation in retail has continued to evolve due to rising consumer demand for tailored products and shopping experiences. Consumers will pay a premium to stand out from the crowd and brands that can allow some form of personalisation whether product or service will win the hearts, minds and wallets of the consumer.

5) Social media used to be for keeping up on events and news but it has now become the retail channel of choice for start-up businesses to find and sell direct to their customers.

Future predictions

1) Supply chain innovation will continue to expand, with technology becoming increasingly intuitive to our needs due to the rise of AI and gadgets. Deliveries will take place faster with the evolution of the last mile with drones and robots. There will be vertical integration with farms on same site as pack and dispatch.

2) Digital printing will become smarter and increasingly utilised at every stage of buyer’s journeys, including 3D printing of hyper-personalised jewellery and even plant based burgers.

3) We will continue to see heightened personalisation in terms of products but also how the consumer purchases with brands needing to surface richer product data so consumers can make informed decisions to match their societal needs.

4) The face of UK high streets will radically change, with shops acting as showrooms and deploying smart technology that removes the hassle from shopping. Virtual mirrors will replace changing rooms, the purchasing of virtual clothes to wear on social media or via Zoom calls and more stores like Amazon Go will be hitting our high streets.

5) Sustainable sourcing will be a key focus in the future alongside the importance of wider ESG credentials. We can only ensure that products are sustainable through our ability to accurately trace their supply chain, i.e., from farm to fork for food products, and the GTIN will continue to play an important part in facilitating this. Capturing carbon impact and enabling consumers to discover the carbon footprint of a product will be accessed through 2D barcode technology.

As consumers demand more and better product information, it’s now time for industry to collaborate to implement the next generation of barcodes (such as 2D barcodes like a QR code or a GS1 DataMatrix), which can hold vastly more information and will help ensure consumers are informed and protected when it comes to product data.

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About GS1 UK

GS1 UK is one of 115 neutral and independent GS1 organisations operating worldwide. From product barcodes to patient wristbands, GS1 standards have been transforming the way we work and live for more than 40 years.

Whether online, in store or in a hospital, the common language of GS1 global standards is helping our community of more than 50,000 organisations across the UK to uniquely identify, describe and track anything, creating greater trust in data for everyone.

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