How and Why to Take Advantage of 2D Barcodes for Your eCommerce Inventory

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2d barcode

The trusty barcode has been around since the 1950s and is a ubiquitous symbol of commerce. We’ve written about its simple elegance and its many benefits on the blog.

But the standard barcode — the one we see every time we visit the supermarket or department store — is what experts now call “one-dimensional.” 

While one-dimensional barcodes have been the standard for inventory management for years, more recent technology can help make the process easier.

Namely, two-dimensional (or “two-D”) barcodes.

In this post, we’ll explore:

  1. The differences between 1D and 2D barcodes
  2. The different types of 2D barcodes
  3. How they can help you effectively manage your inventory and business growth.

Distinctions Between 1D and 2D Barcodes

More Dimensions of Data

A one-dimensional barcode (or “one-D”) is simply a string of black and white stripes that linearly encodes information. Their familiar vertical bars have been used in universal product codes (UPC) at retailers’ point of sales for over 50 years.

However, a two-dimensional barcode can store more data because it has another layer of information capacity.

For example, one 2D code, the Data Matrix, can store 2,335 alphanumeric characters vs. 1D’s 8-25 characters.

This ability to store more data allows the data-rich 2D tech to encode more complex information in a smaller space, making it ideal for use in inventory management.

Moreover, surveys have found that 92 percent of brand owners and 82 percent of retailers support changing over to 2D barcodes, RFID, and digital watermarks instead of the UPC.

Y-Axis Redundancy Ensures Accuracy

Another difference between 1D and 2D barcodes is how they are encoded. With a one-dimensional code, the data is encoded in only one direction—meaning that there can be errors when reading it or if anything gets corrupted along the way.

On the other hand, two-dimensional barcodes can hold more information because they use two axes to encode data. This characteristic makes them better suited for managing inventory, as you can add more information to each barcode.

Also, the Y-axis redundancy allows for multiple scans of each product to ensure accuracy by stacking redundant lines over each other.

Compared to horizontal and vertical lines, two-dimensional barcodes can also store significantly more data. This feature makes them ideal for handling large quantities of information. 

More Types of Data are Encoded

Currently, barcodes can encode two types of data. The first is one-dimensional (or linear) and includes numbers or alphanumeric characters. For example, this type of information can consist of codes for product identifiers like UPCs, EANs, GTINs, ISBNs, and ISSNs.

The second type of data encoded in 2D barcodes goes beyond alphanumeric characters. This flexibility in data types is one of the critical things that make them so powerful for inventory management.

Most 2D barcodes can store an impressive amount of useful information such as:

  1. Names
  2. vCards
  3. Addresses
  4. Website URLs
  5. Product details
  6. Dates and other binary data

Where and How They are Used

Another main difference between 1D and 2D barcodes is where and how often they’re used. 1D tends to be used in scenarios where the data is subject to change — for instance, contents of a container or pricing.

On the other hand, 2D barcodes are often utilized where space is limited, where there may not be database connectivity available, and when larger amounts of data are needed.

Special Scanning Technology is Required

To read two-dimensional barcodes, you need special scanning technology. It makes sense — data encoded in multiple dimensions need to be interpreted in multiple dimensions to be useful.

In other words, traditional barcode scanners probably won’t cut it.

However, this technology is becoming more and more common, as it’s being built into devices like smartphones and tablets.

Poor Contrast Can Affect Scans

When using two-dimensional barcodes, one thing to consider is the contrast between the code and its background. If there isn’t enough contrast, it can be difficult for scanning devices to interpret the information correctly.

To fix this issue, make sure that your barcodes are easy to see and scan.

Self-Correction Features

Another feature that two-dimensional barcodes have is self-correction. If there are any errors while the code reads, this technology can detect and correct them on its own without human intervention.

That means you don’t need to do anything for the information to be correctly interpreted once you scan it.


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Advantages of 2D Barcodes over 1D​

As we’ve already explored, there are obvious advantages of two-dimensional barcodes over one-dimensional codes.

However, the most notable advantage is that they can store a significant amount of data in a small space—especially if you consider their potential for information storage and accuracy and retrieval capabilities.

Here are a few other advantages that 2D has over its one-dimensional counterpart to consider.

Inventory Accuracy

Another main advantage that two-dimensional barcodes have is accuracy with inventory management and better traceability. 

That’s because they make it possible to store a large amount of data in as little as 12 square millimeters, which can help streamline your entire process from product delivery to sales and beyond.

Rapid Information Recording

One of the biggest advantages that two-dimensional barcodes have over one-dimensional ones is speed. Inputting information into a database can be very time-consuming since you manually type out the data for each product.

Two-dimensional codes streamline this process since they hold more information per scan. This not only allows you to record more data but lets you do so faster than ever before.

Scanning is Easier and Faster

With one-dimensional barcodes, you need to ensure that the object is facing in a specific direction with no other information around it.

This process can not only be very time-consuming but sometimes impossible due to packaging or poor lighting conditions. With two-dimensional codes, all of this goes away, and scanning becomes much simpler and easier.

More Versatile Barcodes

As mentioned before, two-dimensional barcodes can hold more raw information than one-dimensional codes. That also means they can be used for a wider variety of applications and purposes.

For example, you can use them to encode URLs so that customers can easily be directed to your website or online store. You could also use them to store product or inventory information to track and manage it easily.

Barcode Labels Can Be Printed Smaller

Another advantage that two-dimensional barcodes have over one-dimensional barcodes is their size. Since they can hold more information and require less space, they are ideal for small objects like keychains or even custom clothing tags.

This benefit not only saves on printing costs but also allows you to market your brand in unique ways.

Saves Time and Effort

For employees that need to input information into your database, two-dimensional barcodes can save them a lot of time and effort. Faster, more flexible scanning means more data entry in less time. 

It also helps reduce mistakes since the technology makes it much easier to find the correct object and stop errors mid-scan.

Business Intelligence

With two-dimensional barcodes, you can gather a lot of information about your inventory and business in general. 

This data is a valuable resource that allows businesses to improve their performance by making informed decisions about future actions related to products and marketing campaigns.

Reduces Errors

Since two-dimensional barcodes are more accurate than one-dimensional, they can reduce mistakes and make inventory management much easier.

This fact is especially important for eCommerce resellers that must keep track of large inventories in multiple locations.

Better Bottom Line

Using two-dimensional barcodes can save a business a lot of money in both the short and long term. For example, consider how much you could reduce in printing costs given the necessary space per data byte in 2D barcodes.

In addition, having more accurate information from scanning means that there will be fewer errors making it easier for employees to get things done.

Some Downsides to 2D Barcodes

One-dimensional barcodes still have their place in the business world. For some businesses, they may be more advantageous than two-dimensional barcodes. 

Here are a few of the main disadvantages of using two-dimensional codes.

Impractical for Simple Data

One of the main disadvantages that two-dimensional barcodes have compared to one-dimensional is their impracticality when it comes to simple data. 

Generally speaking, they’re not as efficient when it comes to encoding information that is less complex, such as numbers and basic letters.

An Elaborate Database is Needed

Another downside to two-dimensional barcodes is that they require an elaborate database to function properly. Namely, you’ll need software that can interpret the data and correctly assign it to the correct product. 

If this isn’t done properly, your inventory data could become severely muddled.

However, with the increase in mobile devices and cloud-based storage, this process has become easier and easier. And as more businesses make the switch to two-dimensional barcodes, the database needed to support them will only become more robust.

Imagers and Printing are More Expensive

You can scan 1D barcodes with laser scanners and scanners that are camera-based. Meanwhile, 2D barcodes can only be read using imagers.

This limitation creates additional costs for the scanner equipment when it comes to 2D systems, especially if you’re doing a migration from 1D to 2D en masse.

In general, two-dimensional imager scanners are more expensive than laser scanners, making it difficult for smaller businesses to afford them.

Some forms of 2D barcodes can also cost more to print. That is because they require a higher level of detail and precision in the printing process which can add to the overall production costs.

Different Kinds of Retail 2D Barcodes

The most common 2d barcode formats are listed here.

  • QR Codes: Quick Response Codes (QR Codes) are the most popular type of two-dimensional barcodes. They were first developed in Japan in 1994 and can be read by a wide variety of devices, including smartphones, tablets, and laptops. With many businesses going contactless during the COVID-19 pandemic, QR codes have seen a massive resurgence in mainstream use.
  • Aztec Codes: Aztec Codes are another type of two-dimensional barcode that is mainly used in medical and pharmaceutical applications.
  • PDF417 Codes: PDF417 Codes are similar to QR codes, but they can hold more data. They also contain four different layers, which make them harder for counterfeiters to copy and use illegally.
  • MaxiCode Codes: Another type of two-dimensional barcode is called MaxiCode Code (MCC). These were developed by the United States Postal Service and can be used for tracking packages as well as other items that need to be sorted and routed correctly.
  • GS1 Composite Code: GS-Composite Codes are a type of two-dimensional barcode that can encode data from the Global Trade Item Number system.
  • Data Matrix Codes: Another type of two-dimensional barcode is called Data Matrix Code (DMC). These were initially developed by the Department of Defense in 1994 as a way to store data on military equipment.

The Takeaways

Overall, two-dimensional barcodes offer several advantages over one-dimensional codes. They are faster, easier to scan, and can hold more information. 

That makes them perfect for use in eCommerce inventory systems and can help improve your productivity while reducing paperwork.

Contact SkuVault for Your Business’s Barcoding Needs

Two-dimensional barcodes are the future of inventory management and data recording. With their speed, convenience, and versatility, they are perfect for any business that wants to make the switch from manual data entry to a more automated process.

At SkuVault, we develop inventory management software to help eCommerce businesses stay on top of their inventory management, satisfy more customers, and prevent shipping errors.

We know eCommerce business owners wear a lot of hats. We want to simplify the inventory management workflow so you can get back to growing your revenue and focusing on high-level growth.

If you’d like to learn more about how SkuVault’s 2D barcode technology can help your business, contact our team for a live demo today.


Matt Kenyon

Matt Kenyon


Matt has been helping businesses succeed with exceptional content, lead gen, and B2B copywriting for the last decade. When he’s not typing words for humans (that Google loves), Matt can be found producing music, peeking at a horror flick between his fingers, or spending quality time with his wife and kids.