Barcode vs. RFID: Which is better?
Barcodes are well known for inhabiting a small amount of real estate on almost all products. Since the 1960s we’ve become used to seeing barcodes on everything from cereal boxes and clothing, to library books and concert tickets.
Now there is a new kid on the block: radio-frequency identification (more commonly referred to as RFID). Around since the 1990s, RFID is only just starting to take off as an alternative to barcode technology in retail environments.
But which one is actually better? We’re going to take you through the pros and cons of each so you can make the right decision for your business.
How do barcodes and RFID technology work?
Barcode technology requires a barcode scanner and RFID technology requires a scanner, too. However, this is where the similarities end.
What is a barcode?
A barcode is a small image of lines and numbers containing data that can be scanned by barcode scanners. In recent times, other devices such as smartphones and tablets have been designed with barcode reading capabilities.
What is RFID?
RFID uses data-containing tags (attached to products like barcodes), which are tracked via radio waves. RFID scanners have antennas, which send out radio-frequency signals in order to communicate with the tags and read their data.
Pros and cons of using barcode technology
Before we jump into the pros and cons, it’s important to note that there’s nothing wrong with using barcode technology. It’s still totally viable and will be for many years to come. The following bullet points are here to provide the information you need to make a decision that is specific to your business.
- Barcode systems can be easy to implement in small scale retail environments
- Barcodes can be easily printed in house on cheap materials, such as paper or plastic
- It’s much cheaper to use a barcode system, as opposed to RFID technology
- The accuracy of barcodes is generally thought to be better than RFID
- Barcodes are a universal technology and can be read from basically any scanner
- The key disadvantage for barcodes is that they require a line of sight in order to be read.
- Barcode scanners usually have to be within 15 feet of the barcode in order to read its data.
- Barcodes are typically printed on paper or plastic, which makes them easy to damage. A damaged barcode can’t be read by a scanner.
- Items must be scanned individually if you’re using barcode technology.
- Barcodes can be easily counterfeited or replicated.
- Only the type of item will be contained on a barcode, whereas RFID provides a code for every individual item.
- Barcodes contain only basic information relating to the product.
- Barcodes are read only and information cannot be updated or added.
Pros and cons of using RFID technology
RFID has a lot going for it and many in the retail industry are touting it as the next big thing after barcodes. Take a read of this list and maybe you’ll see why.
- RFID tags can be read without line of sight.
- Tags are highly durable and are not easily damaged or affected by dirt.
- One of the best things about RFID? Multiple tags can be read simultaneously (up to 100), making them a huge time saver.
- RFID tags can be read from greater distances, due to the radio wave technology. They can generally be read from up to 300 feet away.
- RFID tags have read/write capabilities. Information can be updated and added.
- RFID tags have the potential to contain highly detailed data, including expiry dates and product maintenance.
- Difficult to replicate and data can be password protected.
- As with any wireless technology, problems can occur. The most common one for RFID is when two signals collide.
- RFID tags contain computerised chips, making them a lot more expensive than the simple barcode.
So, who is the winner?
Both barcode and RFID technology are viable options for any business. While it seems like RFID may have the edge on barcodes (and it does in terms of functionality), the cost is out of reach for many small businesses right now. You should examine how much you really need the fancy option before investing.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that much like all technologies, the price of implementing an RFID system will come down as its popularity grows and it becomes the ‘norm’.
We’ve created the table below so you can do a quick compare of all the bullet points mentioned above:
What do you think - will RFID one day replace barcodes?