Barcodes vs. QR Codes

  • 16 February 2021
  • Faheema Granville

Barcodes and QR codes are easily spotted on products, receipts, marketing material, and even used in digital wallets. Be it the parallel lines of a barcode or the pixels of a QR code, we are all-too-familiar with both these kinds of product coding mechanisms.

But what happens when we view them as a business and not a customer?  For most companies, tracking inventory and products is a vital process. And while both the codes have the same fundamental function of labeling products and inventory management, does one offer an edge over the other? How should a business owner decide between the barcode and QR code?

Here is a starter guide to help small and medium businesses understand and differentiate between QR codes and barcodes. This is particularly useful for companies that are expanding and require a dedicated product coding system to improve their asset management.

All About Barcodes: Application and Benefits

Barcodes are one-dimensional visual representations of data that can be read by machines and scanners. Invented out of necessity, barcodes have been a norm in the retail, inventory, and supply chain management processes for decades after being formally patented in the USA in 1951.

These small rectangles of varying horizontal lines (or bars) are usually printed on product packaging (especially in retail stores and supermarkets). They contain vital information like the name, manufacturer, type, color, and price of the product/asset they are tagged on.

As customers, we are familiar with barcodes in supermarkets and stores. However, they also form the foundation of shipment tracking, warehousing, asset management, ticketing, and several other B2C and B2B processes.

As a matter of fact, the international system for book records ISBN uses barcodes as well. Similarly, UPCs (Universal Product Codes), EAN (European Article) Codes, and ITF Codes are other commonly-used barcode examples.

There are different types of barcodes, and a specific sequence of bars and characters signify particular usage. Barcodes can represent numeric digits as well as incorporate alpha-numeric information.

How to set up an inventory management system with barcodes?

To set up a barcode system at your place of business, you need a barcode printer and scanner, label sticker rolls, and usually some sort of specialized software to manage all the devices. More recently, some manufacturers have rolled out dedicated apps to enable devices with cameras to function as scanners. 

If you don’t have a recurring requirement for barcodes and have limited products, you can also use a free simple barcode generator to create barcodes online.

Barcode systems offer basic inventory management for small and medium retail businesses with limited product range and inventory. They are suitable for small companies that are scaling rapidly and finding it tougher to manage their products and point-of-sales operations manually.

Naturally, using barcodes in your business operations will simplify product management and streamline the entire supply chain process. This will improve efficiency and speed, and also help you save precious manpower.

These near-ubiquitous codes are cost-effective to set up in the long-run, as once you put in place the barcode management system, it can work seamlessly for years. What’s more, the devices and software are easy to install and manage as well. Many reputable brands offer some of the best barcode products in New Zealand.

All about QR Codes: Uses and Advantages

Quick Response codes, or QR codes, are an advanced two-dimensional version of barcodes resembling a small matrix square. Unlike barcodes, QR codes contain information both vertically and horizontally.

Created in Japan, QR codes were developed to simplify production processes in 1994. Their adoption has accelerated with the rising usage of smartphones over the last decade.

QR codes constitute small pixelated cells to form a square matrix; the smallest size is 21 X 21 cells, and they increase in sets of 4 X 4, with a maximum size of 105 X 105 cells. Naturally, as they have an added dimension of storage space, QR codes can contain more than just numbers and alphabets.

Upon scanning, they can reveal information like location, contact details, URLs, forms, instruction manuals, or even prompt actions, like downloading an app or sharing a post on social media profiles.

From big businesses like Amazon to small street-side cafes, QR codes track shipments, tag products, facilitate digital payments, and enable event registration. They are also used to create digital documents like e-menus and work effectively as call-to-actions in marketing campaigns.

How to set up an inventory management system using QR codes?

On the face of it, using a QR code is simpler than setting up a barcode system. There are plenty of bulk QR code generators available online, and you can simply create as many QR codes as you want with predefined data and actions.

Depending on how they are to be used, QR codes can be printed or used digitally. However, small retail stores might need a QR code scanner or set up a software or an app on a dedicated device to scan the codes.

QR codes are best for small and medium businesses with a stronger digital presence and operation. Since they can be printed on merchandise, product packaging, and other promotional materials, they also come in handy for marketing purposes.

As QR codes support multimedia data, offer better security, and allow enhanced tracking, they naturally have versatile uses as compared to barcodes. However, this doesn’t mean that they are suitable for all businesses and industries. Let us take a closer look at how barcodes and QR codes differ from each other on a fundamental level.

Barcodes and QR codes: How are they different?

Appearance is not the only thing that differentiates barcodes and QR codes. We’ve established that a barcode stores data only in the horizontal direction, whereas a QR code holds it both horizontally and vertically.

In practice, what this means is that QR codes can contain much more information than barcodes. To put things in context, barcodes can usually store up to 25 characters of information, whereas a typical QR code can store over 2500 numeric characters.

That’s why barcodes are used to tag a particular type or category of product, and not the individual product itself. For this reason, while checking out multiple pieces of the same product at a grocery store, the cashier simply scans the same items as many times, as opposed to doing them all individually. On the other hand, QR codes are more pointed and denote the actual individual item in the inventory.

The one area where QR codes outperform barcodes is design. Not only are they compact, but they are also customizable to include the company logo, images, text prompts, and different colors. Barcodes usually do not have that flexibility, although some manufacturers are finding ways to use them creatively.

Between QR codes and barcodes, the former also tend to be more easily accessible and have lower rates of error. However, since customers interact more with QR codes, their experience depends on their device.

These differences are telling because the usage of barcodes and QR codes in business is also evident. Small and big retail, healthcare, transport, and manufacturing companies tend to use barcodes extensively. QR codes are used more for digital payments, placing orders, and customer engagement.

To put it another way, barcodes continue to be a business-focused technology that can help streamline inventory and product management, whereas QR codes are also a consumer-centric tool for contactless exchange of data.

Barcodes vs. QR codes: How to pick one

It might be confusing for businesses to pick between QR codes and barcodes, as they come with distinct uses and benefits. Here are a few considerations that must be accounted for:

Functionality: Probably, the most vital factor in the decision-making process is the purpose of the scannable code. Is it to manage inventory or simplify the checkout process? Do you want to add a contactless payment option for customers? Also, who will be using the system the most and for what duration? The answers to all these questions will determine the right choice between QR codes and barcodes.

Industry: Your business and the industry you operate in also influence your choice. Consult other business owners and managers about their practices, and get vendor recommendations if possible. This ensures consistency with set industry norms and enables your B2B operations to exist within the same ecosystem as that of other businesses.

Scanning equipment: Find out what sort of scanning and printing equipment suits your requirement before taking the final decision. A dedicated barcode scanner and printer might be the way to go for small businesses, as creating QR codes online for each product might be a cumbersome job.

Scanning surface: Another critical question to ask is where will the labels containing the codes be put? QR codes work best on clear and flat surfaces and might not be readable on curved surfaces, like wires. On the other hand, barcodes can be used on a variety of textures and their readability is impacted less by curvature as compared to QR codes.

Find the best deals on barcode printers and scanners in New Zealand!

Thus, there is no wrong choice between barcodes and QR codes, and it usually boils down to what part of the business process you are focusing on. If the objective is simply to manage products with quicker identification and database management, barcodes are naturally the right choice. However, if you want to add additional information (like washing instructions or nutrition value) to the codes for customers, QR codes might be the better pick.

Barcode and QR codes: How to get started and best practices

A robust product and supply chain management process can help a company save significant costs by improving efficiency and productivity. So, setting up the process correctly and starting on the right foot is essential. Here is how to go about it:


The foremost step is to identify the right products that can meet your expectations. Depending on the required features, compare different vendors to find the top barcode printers and scanners in New Zealand. As per your budget and expected performance, you can make inquiries and lookup demos.

You can consult POS experts and barcoding solutions providers in New Zealand for their recommendations as well. Purchases can be made in-person at physical stores or online, where discounts and promotions are usually offered.

Remember, barcodes require low contrast, adequate quiet zones, and the right distance and angle for the best performance. So make sure all these are accounted for during the installation.

Similarly, be sure to verify the size of the labels, the compatibility of the scanning devices, and the design of the barcodes before you make the purchase. Also, pick high-quality accessories like label sticker rolls and printing ink to ensure long-lasting barcodes.

QR codes

Machines that generate bulk QR codes are easily available in the market, alongside a variety of online QR code generators. As per your budget and staff availability, you can pick a suitable option and create QR codes for your business. Higher-end QR code generators also allow you to place your company logo or change the color as per your liking.

However, make sure that the QR code is tested extensively beforehand and that the scanning device works seamlessly. You can also invest in tracking and analytical tools to understand how customers interacted with the code.

Barcodes vs. QR Codes: The Final Note

To wrap things up, both barcodes and QR codes are fantastic solutions to replace manual systems of inventory and retail management. They are both helpful in improving the speed and reducing the error rate, and your choice between the two must be based on your unique business requirements.

If you’re just beginning to introduce scannable codes to your business and want to deploy them for an internal purpose, barcodes definitely should be given priority. But if you’re looking for a more flexible and customer-oriented solution that can be used for multiple purposes, QR codes are the way to go.

Share this post