Barcodes & QR Codes

Handheld Inventory Scanners: Pros and Cons

April 15, 2024 • 7 min read

When it comes to inventory management software, the most cutting-edge solutions feature a range of automation features. One of the most established and common automation features is barcode and QR code scanning. 

Some kind of scanner is required to perform barcode and QR code scanning. There are traditional barcode scanners that are fixed and stationary, such as those you’d find at a grocery store or pharmacy. There are also handheld inventory scanners—portable solutions that are usually Bluetooth-enabled. Finally, there is a third option—using an app that turns your smartphone or tablet’s camera into a barcode and QR code scanner.

This article will discuss the pros and cons of traditional handheld inventory scanners and whether investing in these devices is right for your business.

What is a handheld inventory scanner?

As previously mentioned, a handheld inventory scanner is a portable device that, when connected to the right software, can scan a barcode or QR code affixed to an item in a business's inventory. Such handheld inventory scanners come in a variety of sizes and price points.

The purpose of these devices is to rapidly scan barcodes and QR codes linked to essential data about a given piece of inventory. While QR codes hold more data than barcodes, both are considered effective in inventory management. This is particularly true if you use inventory management software that automatically pulls up an item’s inventory profile when a barcode or QR code is scanned. This effectively eliminates the advantage of QR codes over barcodes, at least in terms of data storage.

 However, one solid advantage of QR codes is that they can be scanned from any angle instead of just horizontally. This can be especially helpful when a business stores lots of inventory in hard-to-reach places or in unusual positions and is likely to have to scan a code in any way possible.

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Pros of handheld inventory scanners

There are a variety of benefits to using handheld inventory scanners. Here are a few of the most common:

1.    Scanning barcodes and QR codes on the go

The chief benefit of a handheld inventory scanner is that it enables a business’s employees to utilize barcodes and QR codes as they move about the warehouse, storage facility, or even from project to project. Since inventory management strategies are typically only as strong as a business’s ability to maintain them over time, enabling employees to scan inventory from anywhere is essential. 

2.    Checking items in and out quickly

Also essential to effective inventory management is the ability to quickly check inventory in and out.

This is particularly true if your business hopes to implement a perpetual inventory management strategy. In that case, the goal is to maintain an always-accurate inventory list. This is only possible if all items are checked in and out every single time inventory status or location changes. This can be achieved in seconds with a barcode or QR code scanner but is virtually impossible to achieve when managing inventory manually. 

3.    Ease of use

Handheld scanners are relatively easy to use, even for team members who aren’t tech-savvy. Once connected to inventory management software, a single scan from your team members is all it takes to pull up critical inventory data.

This is especially helpful if a handheld inventory scanner replaces a manual inventory management system. Instead of spending hours searching for a product manual or vendor information about a given item, a single scan can provide stakeholders with all the necessary data.

4.    Reducing the risk of human error

When using a handheld inventory scanner to either check items in and out, perform an inventory audit, or simply learn more about an item, your team can slash the risk of human error. That’s because, when using a barcode or QR code, you’ll be sent to the correct inventory page without fail. After all, every barcode and QR code is unique—even when items look alike or have names that sound alike.

5.    Reading both existing and custom-generated barcodes and QR codes

 Chances are, a good amount of inventory in your business’s possession already has a barcode or QR code. Most of the time, if you’re using an inventory app such as Sortly, you can scan that barcode or QR code and speed up entering item details into your inventory database. 

What’s more, if no barcode or QR code is affixed to the item, some inventory solutions allow you to create your own. For example, Sortly allows users to generate customizable barcodes and QR codes within the app and then create custom labels and print them using a traditional printer—no special equipment required.

 Employee holding handheld inventory scanner in warehouse.

Cons of handheld inventory scanners

While there are many upsides to investing in handheld inventory scanners, even the best inventory scanners have a downside. Here are a few of those negatives to consider:

1.    Costliness 

When it comes to inventory management, many businesses are trying to spend less money rather than more. If an operation is large, investing in hundreds, if not thousands, of handheld inventory scanners might be enough to dissuade stakeholders from implementing a barcode or QR code inventory management system altogether.

2.    Clunkiness

Sometimes, when it comes to technology, the smaller and more powerful the device, the more expensive. This can also be true when selecting a handheld inventory scanner. To reduce costs, some businesses may be tempted to select larger and clunkier devices. Unfortunately, there is an inherent downside to this: the more cumbersome the device, the less likely employees are to actually walk around with and utilize the equipment.

When determining what type of inventory scanner is best for your business, consider your employees’ workflow and whether it makes sense for them to carry such a device around. Some things to consider are how many other items they are expected to keep on their person, how much they move around a warehouse, restaurant, or whatever kind of facility houses your operation, and how much time they’ll spend scanning inventory daily.

3.    Additional asset and equipment management

As previously mentioned, when a business needs to purchase handheld inventory scanners, it takes on a whole new set of assets to manage. Like other equipment, even the best handheld inventory scanners must be maintained. They can break, get lost or damaged, and may eventually need to be replaced.

Your business may also need to update its standard operating procedure to establish how to maintain these scanners to keep them in the best condition possible for as long as possible.

Alternatives to handheld inventory scanners

Many businesses shy away from traditional handheld inventory scanners due to their cost, bulkiness, and need for additional asset management.  Fortunately, inventory apps like Sortly offer a smarter solution.

Sortly utilizes the built-in camera on your existing smartphones, transforming them into powerful barcode scanners. This eliminates the need for dedicated scanning equipment, saving you money upfront and simplifying your workflow. By leveraging technology you already own, Sortly streamlines inventory management. The intuitive interface ensures fast and accurate scanning, freeing you from the tedium of manual data entry. In other words, the only thing you need to start scanning your inventory today is a smartphone.

The best part? Sortly easily connects with third-party scanners, if you prefer to scan inventory that way.

Learn more about Sortly’s barcode and QR code capabilities.

About Sortly

Barcode scanner mobile

Sortly is an inventory management solution that helps you track, manage, and organize your inventory—from any device, in any location. We’re an easy-to-use inventory software that’s perfect for large or small businesses. Sortly builds inventory tracking seamlessly into your workday so you can save time and money, satisfy your customers, and help your business succeed.

With Sortly, you can track inventory, supplies, parts, tools, assets like equipment and machinery, and anything else that matters to your business. It comes equipped with smart features like barcoding & QR coding, low stock alerts, customizable folders, data-rich reporting, and much more. Best of all, you can update inventory right from your smartphone, whether you’re  on the job, in the warehouse, or on the go.

Whether you’re just getting started with inventory management or you’re an expert looking for a more efficient solution, we can transform how your company manages inventory—so you can focus on building your business. That’s why over 10,000 businesses globally trust us as their inventory management solution.

Start your two-week free trial of Sortly today.