What is a Barcode Scanner?

Barcode scanners are electronic devices used for reading printed barcodes. They include a light source, a lens, and a light sensor that translates optical impulses into electrical ones. There are a myriad of scanners available on the market, including pen-type readers, laser scanners, CDD readers, and camera-based readers.

How does a scanner work?

Scanners typically use laser beams to reflect light off a barcode. To 'read' the barcode, the scanner measures the intensity of the reflected light. Scanners are not 'smart' devices - instead they only read what is put in front of them. Scanners do not associate UPC codes with a specific inventory item. This association is done through your POS software. Scanners do have the ability, however, to rearrange barcodes, drop leading numbers, or drop check digit numbers.

What types of scanners are there?

There are a variety of scanners on the market. The most basic scanner is a wired handheld 1D scanner. These scanners read 1D barcodes (think of a traditional barcode with black and white lines) and typically have to be placed directly in front of a barcode. If you've ever seen a clerk having to scan an item over and over for it to read, this is likely the result of an inexpensive scanner. More expensive models are better suited to read broken or angeled barcodes. 2D scanners have the ability to read the increasingly popular 2D barcodes such as QR codes.

Many customers request wireless scanners for their obvious benefit. Wireless scanners, however, are often significantly more expensive than their wired counterpart.

Presentation style scanners are not shaped like the traditional gun-style scanner. Instead, these devices are made for the barcode to be presented in front of the scanner (as opposed to the scanner being presented in front of the barcode). Presentation style scanners are typically bi-optic, which basically means they can better read barcodes. Not surprisingly, these models are more expensive than the traditional scanner.

So which scanner is for me?

The answer to this question primarily depends on your business flow. High-volume establishments often find presentation style scanners to be the most efficient because clerks can use two hands to slide products in front of the scanner. Because these scanner can read barcodes from almost any angle, checkout speed is dramatically increased. However, if you are selling large, bulky products that cannot be presented to the scanner, then a more traditional gun-style device is what you need. Finally, if mobility is what you are seeking, then wireless is your choice.

Is there a big difference in price?

Yes. Basic scanners cost less than $100 while advanced models cost over $1,000. If you're a high-volume big box though, a high-quality scanner will easily pay for itself by reducing checkout times and shortening checkout lines.