'Showdowns' Predicted as Bar-Code Deadline Nears

Many North American retailers are making preparations to comply with the approaching Jan. 1, 2005, "Sunrise" deadline that requires them to be able to process one digit more than they're accustomed to when scanning bar codes.

But one retail analyst last week predicted that there will also be "a dramatic number of showdowns" during the coming months.

"There is an extremely disturbing trend emerging," said Scott Langdoc, an analyst at AMR Research Inc. He said he has learned that some large grocery, convenience and chain drug stores will be "strong-arming" suppliers to delay shipping products to them with EAN-8 and EAN-13 symbols. Those symbols typically have been used only on products shipped to stores outside North America. In the U.S. and Canada, the 12-digit Universal Product Code (UPC) has been the bar-code standard.

Langdoc said he expects that compliance with the 2005 Sunrise directive will be over 50%. "But we won't be 100% compliant," he said.

Some retailers, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., have been compliant for years, since they have been importing products from countries that use the EAN symbology, Langdoc noted. But for others, making sure their point-of-sale scanners are ready for the 2005 Sunrise deadline hasn't been the top priority because of competing projects, he said.

Complying with the directive generally means more than ensuring that point-of-sale scanners can read the EAN symbols. Best Buy Co., for instance, systematically scanned all of its applications for search strings such as "UPC" and "bar code." Wherever it found attributes with a field size of 12 characters, it expanded the field to 14 digits. Like many companies, Best Buy is preparing for the expected increased usage of the 14-digit Global Trade Item Number.

A longer version of this story is available here.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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