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Another Digit, Another Deadline: Retailers need longer bar codes by 2005

Shades of Y2k: U.S. retailers must update their systems to handle longer bar codes by Jan. 1, 2005.

By Kathleen Melymuka
June 30, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The IT department at Ahold Information Services in Greenville, S.C., has been working for years toward a deadline that's little known outside the retail world.
"We began designing data warehouses and new projects three, four, even five years ago with this in mind," says Ed Gropp, chief business and technology officer at the subsidiary of Ahold USA Inc., which operates U.S. supermarkets including the Stop & Shop and Giant Food chains. The company is "fairly well along," Gropp says, and he's confident Ahold will be ready.
But others in the retail industry are less prepared.
The dust has barely settled over Y2k, and there's another technology deadline approaching. Sunrise 2005 is the Uniform Code Council Inc.'s (UCC) mandate by which all U.S. manufacturers, distributors and retailers must be able to process new, longer product codes by 2005. Like Y2k, this is a business issue that involves database field formats, so responsibility falls heavily on IT. Like Y2k, it's a seemingly simple task that becomes more complex as you get more involved. And like Y2k, it leaves most retailers with no choice but to comply.
A Globalization Issue
Sunrise 2005 is essentially about numerical limits and globalization. In the 1990s, the Lawrenceville, N.J.-based UCC, which assigns the 12-digit universal product codes (UPC), determined that the numbers would eventually run out if more digits weren't added. The council notified retailers in 1997 that as of Jan. 1, 2005, it would introduce 13-digit UPCs and that they would have to be able to process them.
Sunrise 2005 is also a step toward global synchronization of retail data, which is expected to cut precious time and billions of dollars out of the supply chain. Current UPCs conflict with the eight- to 13-digit European Article Numbering (EAN) codes used throughout the rest of the world.
When foreign products are traded here, they must be relabeled so that U.S. 12-digit systems can read them, a time-consuming, expensive and error-prone effort. This relabeling will end in 2005.
A final twist: Sunrise 2005 requires that U.S. retailers be able to process 13 digits, but the UCC recommends that they process 14 digits. That's because 14-digit codes will be required for global synchronization as well as emerging supply chain tools such as reduced space symbology (RSS) and radio-frequency identification (RFID).
Although Sunrise 2005 also affects manufacturers, the bigger issue is for retailers, says Pam Stegeman, vice president of supply chain and technology at Grocery Manufacturers of America Inc. in Washington. Manufacturers won't need to change UPCs on existing products, and their back-end systems can already process 14-digit codes,

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