Bar Codes Get One Better
By Kevin Kelleher

(Business 2.0) – The Universal Product Code—the iconic bar code found on everything from machine parts to mustard—is poised for an upgrade. While the rest of the world uses a 13-digit bar code, North American companies have preferred a 12-digit configuration. No more: The Uniform Code Council, the nonprofit industry group that oversees bar-code standards in the United States and Canada, has adopted the global standard. Retailers have until Jan. 1 to update their systems to accept the new codes.

Since most cash-register scanners can already read the longer codes, much of the transition is focused on updating the back-end software that retailers use for inventory management. Consulting firm A.T. Kearney estimates that the new codes could shave as much as 10 percent off the time required to harmonize product data and reconcile invoices internationally. Here's how to decipher the new code. — KEVIN KELLEHER

12 34567 89012 8

COUNTRY CODE  [12] Numbers 00 through 13 signify companies based in the United States or Canada; 54, in Belgium; 76, in Switzerland; etc.

COMPANY CODE [34567] This unique number identifies each manufacturer in the world. In North America alone, 250,000 manufacturers have registered to get their own code.

ARTICLE CODE [89012] These digits are assigned to individual products by manufacturers and registered in centralized databases through regional authorities like the Uniform Code Council.

CHECK DIGIT [8] The previous 12 digits of the code are fed into an algorithm that yields a single digit. This number is used to verify that a bar code has been scanned or typed correctly.