Barcodes & QR Codes

Barcodes vs Qr Codes for Inventory Management

A man in a neon vest takes inventory using a barcode scanner.

A crucial part of inventory management is actually keeping up with the inventory on hand. Having a quick, digital system that allows you to quickly scan a product tag to check it in or out is a necessity for most businesses who are managing any level of inventory. This makes it easy to see what you have in stock, what you need to reorder, and to track all sales.

An inventory app being used on a laptop shows barcodes and QR codes being created, scanned and printed.

When it comes to inventory management, there are two common choices for tracking: barcodes and QR codes, both of which have their own advantages. If you’re deciding between barcodes vs. QR codes for inventory management, you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons of each. 

What Are Barcodes? 

Barcodes are small one-dimensional codes that use a series of black bars and white spaces of varying sizes to create unique, individual sequences that are readable by scanners. They’re attached to labels that can be placed on the item, or it can even be printed onto the packing or product itself.  which (when read by a barcode scanner) conveys information like the SKU and price of the item. 

Barcodes are a commonly-used method to tag and track inventory, which is why you’ve likely seen them show up everything from books to boxes of cereal to exercise equipment.

The Pros & Cons of Barcodes for Inventory Management 

There are clearly plenty of advantages to using barcodes for inventory management; if there weren’t, they wouldn’t be so prevalent amongst small and large businesses alike.

Barcodes are inexpensive to use and print, making them a cost-effective choice for plenty of businesses. They’re also accurate as long as they’re placed on the right product. This makes them preferable to manual systems that are prone to human error. They can speed up your process overall, which can even reduce manual labor and ensure that your inventory management is always up to date.

There are, however, a few disadvantages, particularly when compared to QR codes.

For starters, they’re one-dimensional. This means they can only be ready horizontally and not vertically. While they can store text-based information about a product like type, size, style, cost, and SKU. They only hold about 20 to 25 characters, depending on the exact type of barcode you’re using. 

One-dimensional codes also aren’t as secure as two-dimensional codes, which allow for encryption. If you want high security for the data you’re storing in these codes, barcodes may not be the answer. 

Finally, barcodes can be finicky; they typically need to be scanned from specific angles, and some businesses purchase high-contrast scanners to help with this. And if there is an issue with damage, distortion, or an error in printing, there’s a good chance scanners won’t be able to read the information stored. 

What Are QR Codes? 

QR codes (which is short for “Quick Response” code) are essentially two-dimensional barcodes that can be read vertically and horizontally. Instead of having a single linear sequence of black lines and white spaces, you’ll get small square codes that use black shapes and white space to convey information. 

You’ve likely seen QR codes before on everything from products to the new Amazon return system, and they’re commonly used as a quick way to share your social profiles to get more visits and followers.

Like one-dimensional barcodes, QR codes are ready by machines; these machines can be designated scanners, but users can also pull up apps on their phones to get the information. 

The Pros & Cons of QR Codes for Inventory Management 

QR codes have a lot of advantages, especially when compared with conventional, one-dimensional barcodes.

Because QR codes can be read vertically and horizontally, they can store significantly more information. While one-dimensional barcodes can only store around 20-25 characters, QR codes can store up to 2,509 numeric characters of 1,520 alpha-numeric characters. 

While some businesses may not want or need this level of information, it’s incredibly valuable when you do. You can store product details, website URLs, and plain text in QR codes that you’re attaching to your inventory. If you wanted to track a batch number or where a product was manufactured or imported from, QR codes can help with that.

QR codes are also more secure than one-dimensional barcodes as the information can be encrypted. There’s also less room for error, as they have three levels of error detection built-into the code; if something is off, you’ll know.

These codes are also accessible, easily read by the smartphones that we’re all carrying around, and some inventory management tools include QR scanning within their native apps. Since QR codes can be scanned from any angle, they’re even more convenient to use. 

The biggest disadvantage of QR codes is what happens when there is an error. If the code is damaged, gets smudged, or somehow distorted, they’ll be unreadable. That being said, simple wear and tear should be a non-issue. To be on the safe side, it’s smart using an app that allows you to reprint barcodes or QR codes so that replacing the labels if needed is a piece of cake. 

Barcodes vs. QR Codes for Inventory Management: Which is Better? 

While the answer to this question may seem clear cut, that’s not always the case. 

QR codes are more versatile, and they come with a lot more capabilities than one-dimensional barcodes. If you know that you want to store a ton of information within it (or even think that one day you might), it’s a great choice. 

That being said, not all businesses necessarily need or want to store that much information within a tracking code. They just need the product SKU, price, and the ability to check it in or out of their system. 

If you’re already set up with a barcode system and it’s working well for you, there’s not really a reason to change over. It can be time-consuming and expensive to convert from one type of code to another, so unless you really want that functionality, there’s nothing wrong with maintaining the status quo. 

Final Thoughts 

Barcodes and QR codes are both typically highly preferable to manual systems where you’re checking everything in and out by hand. They’re both effective and accurate, so both can benefit you.

It’s important to choose a system that works best for your business, so if you’re starting from the ground up, it’s often good to choose the more flexible, feature-filled option. In this case, that would be QR codes.

Some inventory management tools are offering increased functionality for QR codes. Sortly, for example, allows customers to use smartphones to scan existing barcodes and QR codes. You can also generate custom QR codes that don’t have any, saving you an incredible amount of time. You can do all of this on your own smartphone, though our app can also be synced with some existing Bluetooth scanners if you prefer. 

Whatever you choose, consider your needs now and in the future; scalability should always be something to keep in mind.

A custom PDF of an inventory report is generated.

Interested in an intuitive, barcode-friendly and QR code-friendly inventory management app? Start your free trial with Sortly today!