Five years after the launch of the new stacked coupon barcodes (called DataBars), I really thought that manufacturers would have it mastered, and that all coupons would be flawlessly encoded and scan at checkout. However, the reality is that DataBars are very complicated, and we continue to see an amazing number of mistakes. With no FSIs this weekend, we used QSeer to analyze the coupon errors 2/12 from RedPlum and SmartSource. We found that about 70% of coupons had errors, 20% had concerns and just 10% were completely correct. Yikes!
In the Atlanta region last week, there were 2 RedPlum inserts and 1 SmartSource insert for a total of 102 manufacturer coupons. Of these coupons, 10 were correct, 72 had errors, and 20 had “concerns.”
TOP THREE ERRORS
The most common errors were too broad family codes, no expiration dates, and barcodes that were too small. Many coupons had more than one error.
1. Too broad family codes means that the coupon could be redeemed on more items than described in English on the coupon. This is a costly error for manufacturers because it can drive up redemption rates. Here is an example showing the difference between the products described in English on the coupon vs the broad family codes used in the coupon barcode.
2. No expiration date in the DataBar means that the checkout computers will interpret the coupon as valid indefinitely. This is a common error made by certain manufacturers. Here is an example of a coupon having an expiration date written on it along with the QSeer output showing no expiration date encoded in the barcode.
3. On the other side of the redemption equation, when a barcode is smaller than specified in the GS1 DataBar requirements, the chance that it will scan at checkout decreases. One of the easiest ways to understand the importance of barcode size is to look at small barcodes when they are magnified. Imagine how hard it would be for even a computer to read this since the bars no longer look like bars – some of the bars bleed together while others look like squiggly lines.
TOP THREE CONCERNS
We identify “concerns” as issues with the design of the coupon. The most common concerns are unsupportable quantity limits, non white backgrounds, and insufficient space between DataBars.
1. One of the key selling points of the DataBars was that it would eliminate the need for cashiers to read coupons at checkout, speeding up the checkout process. The concept was that if the coupon scanned, it would be accepted. Now manufacturers have started putting quantity limits in the coupon fine print. Quantity limits are not available as a field in the DataBar specifications, so that means cashiers are once again expected to read each coupon’s terms and conditions before scanning.
2. For easy computer scanning, GS1 DataBars are supposed to be black on a white background. When marketers use a colored background, it creates further scanning difficulties for the store computers. Remember the magnified barcode? Well it only looks worse on a colored background.
3. The other main concern we find is when manufacturers put multiple coupons on a page and don’t allow enough space between the barcodes for clipping the coupons. A missing vertical bar will prevent a coupon from scanning at checkout.
We recommend that manufacturers use CHEQR. CHEQR is an iPad app designed for coupon quality control. Coupon DataBars can be scanned during the design phase and during the first print run to make sure they will scan at checkout as expected. CHEQR also contains a proprietary algorithm that shows risks and exposures associated with each DataBar, along with an option for creating coupon DataBars though a user-friendly wizard.