Recently, I made some purchases at various retail stores and noticed their product labels. My new Weber Grill had several labels on it. We were able to decipher them. The label had three pieces of information compiled into one QR code. That was nice, but there is no separation between the fields… where does the serial number end and the UPC code begin? If you didn’t know what you were looking at, it was meaningless.
If I had to return this product under warranty, it may be difficult for me to identify the model number. My phone scans the QR code just fine; but, the content is not useful.
We know that QR codes can communicate up to 4000 characters. However, there is so much more they could have done to utilize the same space. They could give me a link to order accessories and another for recipes. They could connect me directly to customer support—after all, it is a phone I am using to scan the information. Why aren’t manufacturers using QR codes more effectively?
Here’s another label from a product I purchase regularly: this time for contact lenses from Johnson & Johnson. Their label was very similar: Just a string of numbers. The QR code can be so much better utilized. Why can’t I scan it and get something like this screen on my phone? And there is still a lot of white space for additional information! Maybe I could even just scan the label to re-order?
The reason they don’t is because there have not been any standards defining how to how to separate the data fields. Each manufacturer develops their own system. Formatting the resulting information is chaos without a standard!
In order to make sense out of the information contained in a QR code, the data must be broken into separated fields that are identified. But if you have to spell out each field name before the content, you eat up a lot of the space. Spelling out “Model Number” takes up eleven extra characters.
The Reverse Logistics Association recently developed standardized QR Labels, referred to as Smart QR Labels or SQRL codes. It is merely a protocol and a data dictionary of field names that allow manufacturers to create complex labels with multiple fields each with their own content. We have also defined a common separator called a “delimitor.” While this is not rocket science, in itself, having standardized field names allows for the standardized formatting of the content as shown in the phone image above. While these fields may take the user to different web locations, they can also contain actual data that does not require access to the Internet. QR codes, after all, can store up to 4000 characters. That is a lot of content space.
This opens many possibilities for manufacturers to consolidate labeling. Consolidation of labels will facilitate single swipe scanning. This would increase warehousing efficiency. Consolidation of labels also eases the product labeling process: multiple stickersrequired multiple passes through the scanning process. It adds efficiency to logistics; package handlers no longer have to hunt n’ peck for the correct label. Since it is based on an ANSI standard (MH10.8.2.12N) and is ISO 15434 compliant, channel partners and third party service providers do not need to be trained in your proprietary labeling protocols.
We mentioned that this is an ANSI standard. The RLA is in the process of promoting the system to an ISO standard. It is still in its infancy and the RLA Standards Committee is soliciting manufacturers for pilot projects. We are continuing to build the data dictionary. It can be found on our website www.rla.org/sqrl. It is easy to request additional data fields. Think of them as XML tags. The dictionary is limitless. How big is a dictionary? Send us your request for adding additional field names. Please contact us if you would like to get involved. firstname.lastname@example.org
As the current Executive Director of the RLA, Tony is very involved in the RLA Committees, especially the RLA Standards Committee. In his 35 plus years in the consumer products industry, Tony has held various positions including 15 years in returns management at Philips. During his Philips years, Tony developed new reverse logistics strategies and implemented many new returns initiatives. He worked with retail partners and industry groups on best practices still being used. Tony then became an evangelist for improving the customer experience to reduce returns and their associated costs. Today, Tony is considered a subject matter expert in reverse logistics, and speaks for the industry at conferences all over the world.