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    Welcome to a New Era for Printed Coupons

    Exploring this 'long and winding road' for the grocery industry

    By John Karolefski

    Two important dates affecting printed coupons have just passed. On June 30, the traditional UPC Prefix 5 barcode on printed coupons was officially retired. Coupons bearing this barcode are neither printed nor distributed anymore. As of July 1, every point-of-sale (POS) scanning system in every grocery store across the land is supposed to be able to process coupons bearing the new GS1 DataBar expanded and stacked barcodes.

    Getting to this point has been a long and winding road for the grocery industry. Deciding to use the new format exclusively was announced way back in 2007. A “transition” began in 2011 and just ended. So now all trading partners are ready to reap the benefits of this new technology, right?

    Not really. Oh, the consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers are ready. During the transition period, manufacturers printed coupons with both the old barcode and the new DataBar. That made for cluttered coupon graphics, but was necessary because too many grocers had not modified their scanner software to read the DataBar. To get ready for the change, grocers may only need to enable the functionality in their scanning systems. In some cases, software or hardware may need to be modified. Also, databases must be updated to accept and correctly process Application Identifiers as described in the North American Coupon Application Guideline Using GS1 DataBar Expanded Symbols.

    Over the years, the deadline to be ready was pushed back several times so recalcitrant retailers could catch up. Now every POS scanning system in every grocery store is able to read the new DataBar at the POS, right?

    Not really. Even though there are no surveys to verify such a claim, there is circumstantial evidence. Five months ago, the Joint Industry Coupon Committee (JICC) was still urging retailers to prepare for the retirement of the traditional UPC. The JICC is administered by the Food Marketing Institute, National Grocers Association, Grocery Manufacturers Association, and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Why would these trade groups still be issuing such an advisory if they thought all scanning systems were ready for the DataBar?

    As recently as last month, Daniel Triot, senior director of the Trading Partner Alliance (TPA), addressed this issue in a blog on the GMA website. He wrote: “Retailers are encouraged to implement and activate these technologies as soon as possible in order to process coupons seamlessly and to avoid a disadvantaged position in the market place.”

    What disadvantaged position? First, there are redemption efficiencies. Also, the GS1 DataBar will reduce incidences of unintentional coupon mis-redemption as well as intentional coupon fraud, especially coupon decoding.

    By John Karolefski
    • About John Karolefski John Karolefski is a veteran business journalist with 25 years of experience covering CPG, retail and technology. Over the years, he has edited several trade publications and is the co-author of three books: "TARGET 2000: the Rising Tide of TechnoMarketing," "All about Sampling and Demonstrations," and "Consumer-Centric Category Management." He has appeared on CNN, CBS Radio and BBC Radio to discuss marketing issues. He can be reached at [email protected]

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