Chain of Thought

Are Consumers More Tech-Savvy than You?

A couple blogs back I reported about the “arty” nature of bar codes on consumer products. Some Consumer Packaged Goods manufacturers are transforming their old boring bar codes into graphic images to capture consumer attention. We're also seeing more of those QR (Quick Response) 2D codes on packages that allow consumers with smart phones to get immediate access to multi-media information about those products.

It seems like advances in automatic data collection and in smart phones are making consumers more conscious of the power these technologies can give them. This power is making news.

The democratic revolution brewing in the Middle East was made possible in part by ordinary citizens shooting videos of the brutal crackdowns on protesters by their leaders and posting them online for the world to see. And even more recently, consumer groups have found an effective way to use QR codes to rally shoppers against Hershey Products for doing business with West African cocoa farms that employ abusive child labor, forced labor and trafficking. These groups are leaving “Consumer Alert” cards on the shelf in front of this company's products. The QR code on these cards allows shoppers to use their smartphones to protest the company's practices.

If this trend continues there's a good chance consumers may become more adept at using some ADC technology than many logistics organizations. I say that because after the economic downturn many companies downsized their organizations, and according to Joe Andraski, president and CEO of the Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Solutions Association (VICS), not only was headcount downsized, but so was technological experience and knowledge.

“Understanding of the basics of Electronic Data Interchange [EDI] has been lost,” he told me. “Why is it that a major motor carrier spends some $2500 in customized EDI transactions? The basics are there, but largely ignored by all but the largest companies. The root of the problem is senior management, who just don't know what they don't know.”

Andraski happens to be on MH&L's editorial advisory board, as is Bert Moore, founder of IDAT Consulting and Education, specialists in automatic identification technology. Moore says that even in the best of economic times, subject matter experts in a company get promoted, transferred, leave or retire. He told me that during a recent meeting he fielded two pretty basic questions about Code 128—technology that is far from new.

Even when it comes to bar code label (and RFID tag) placement, details that are clearly outlined in EAN/UPC (now GS1) and ANSI standards—lower right-hand corner of the long side—are being ignored by industrial shippers.

“They want the label on the front or top or higher up or somewhere else,” Moore said. “This is probably because of their automated conveyor/sortation design requirements. But is that because systems integrators are unaware of existing standards and practices? Maybe these people came into the field after the development of all the bar code standards and they don't understand the struggles we went through to get things standardized.”

Self-interest is motivating consumers to get up to speed on what ADC technology can do for them. Seems to me logistics professionals ought to lead the way in that race.

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