RFID Arena


6 most common FAQs of Barcode vs RFID

Last week I gave Business students at Turku University a guest lecture on the use of barcode and RFID technologies in Retail Operations. The students asked what people unfamiliar with RFID technology often ask - hence I thought the topic is worth a blog.

Although a commonly asked question, I will not discuss price or costs. This is due to the fact that the topic would earn its own blog post and it has been discussed on the RFID Arena widely. If you are interested in cost, please read for instance:

On ROI calculation

On tag price


1. The difference in the label

Typically a barcode label carries the barcode information as well as information for the consumer (e.g. product attributes such as price, size, name etc). The same information could and usually is found in an RFID label with the addition of an electronic element: the tag. So the label itself often looks exactly the same − for example a swing ticket or a price tag or even a care label. The embedded RFID tag makes it possible to save the same (or more) information electronically.

Very simply said, the main two benefits that RFID has over barcode are:

  • RFID tags include a unique code, which makes every RFID label individual, meaning that each item can be recognized as an individual instead of just recognizing a product type.
  • As RFID works on radio, no visible contact is needed in order to read the code. This makes it possible to read many codes simultaniously from afar without the need to open boxes.


Barcode -vs -RFID

2. "If every RFID tag is individual, does it mean that my ERP system will have tens of thousands of new items? "

Most people still work based on their original coding system. So let's assume that a pink t-shirt size S is understood by the system as code 123456 and a pink t-shirt by the same manufacturer but in size M is understood by the system as code 123457. And if we looked at the stock count for the size S, we would search the code 123456 and get the count.

In the RFID world all the pink t-shirts size S would still be marked with code 123456, but also include a unique identifier. To simplify, you could have 123456-1, 123456-2 etc and the RFID readers would make sense of whatever comes after - . The individual codes can be stored in a database, but when utilizing the information, the codes are typically decoded to their "traditional format".  

3. "It has been said that boxes no longer need to be opened for goods receiving purposes. How can we be sure that all items were really read if we cannot see them? "

Typically there is some knowledge of what should be inside of a box. For example a packing list, EDI notice or a corresponding order. In order to be 100% sure that all items were really recognized it would be advisable to refer to the original document - typically this would be called an "expect list". The RFID reader would have an expect list against which it will verify the content of the box.

A word of advice: when having several boxes delivered a day, it is impossible to say which box has been read, especially when they are stacked in a pile. A printed barcode on the side of each box will help the staff operating the units inform the backend system which individual boxes to read. The box can be identified and the content will be scanned against an expect list. Thus the mobile reader might read items from adjoining boxes but ignores those, as they are not on the expect list. This is not a necessity, but speeds things up further.

4. "Can I press a button and get the stock count of all items in my store?"

Yes, you can have a system that automatically follows all items in a location. It can unfortunately still be a bit tricky and costly to use it. Therefore in most cases retailers have chosen to use a combination of fixed and mobile RFID readers for getting the stock count of their items.

RFID technology makes it possible to count a store very fast - for example at Gerry Weber they make a stock count in 20 minutes. The average count speed with RFID is 25 000 items / hour whereas with traditional barcode scanning we are talking about roughly 250 items / h. 


RFID count is 100 times as fast as a barcode count.

5. "One of our most common problems is related to double-read of barcodes - two employees will read and register the same items causing inaccuracies to stock. Can we use automatic RFID gates to prevent this?"

The cure in this case lies in RFID technology itself, not so much in the "non-human" touch. Automatic RFID gates can be used, but they are not suitable everywhere.

When RFID tags are read with a mobile or a fixed reader it is possible to time-stamp the reading. Additionally, as each item now is unique, the system will know that the same individual has been seen twice within 10 minutes for instance. When dealing with the same stock take session, the individual would of course be registered only once, no matter how many readers have seen it. It would only verify that the item was really there.

6. "Obviously huge department stores and retail chains have systems ready for things like this, but what about a retailer with some 50 stores, how much will their IT-system need to change? "

Practically in all cases some tailoring will be needed. However, in most cases it is possible to use some sort of conversion from RFID to traditional barcode, so that all RFID information would be offered by a service provider on a cloud service for example. This allows the retailer to get the best out of RFID technology without re-doing the whole IT-system immediately. This scenario would work well for the transition period for example. 

22 comments on “6 most common FAQs of Barcode vs RFID”

  1. Gravatar of Dan JurgenDan Jurgen
    Posted 04 December 2013 at 17:31:16

    This blog really needs a good editor. For a writer, you don't seem to have a strong grasp of grammar, punctuation or capitalization.

  2. Gravatar of A H GoodmanA H Goodman
    Posted 04 December 2013 at 20:08:24

    @ Dan Jurgen, you have it back to front... it's not about the writers. This blog really needs good READERS. For a reader, you don't seem to have a strong grasp of relative value. The Internet needs fewer culturally myopic, easily distracted petty [English] grammar Nazis and more people willing to expend the effort to extract value from content.

    Jessica's English is leagues better than my Finnish. Although I cannot always concur with her analyses - usually because of their unavoidable in-the-box focus - NordicID's initiative is to be applauded.

  3. Posted 05 December 2013 at 00:53:54

    Nice article.
    One question I usually get is "Aren't Barcodes free?" and "So why do I want to use these expensive RFID Tags?"
    Of course the answer is complicated with explanations about the need for a person in the "read" of a barcode and the advantages of read/write vs. read only barcodes. Maybe this is an entire subject for a future post.

  4. Gravatar of Jessica SäiläJessica Säilä
    Posted 05 December 2013 at 14:13:40

    Dear Dan,

    I want to apologize for any grammatical or spelling errors that may have upset you. I am afraid I am not a native English speaker and I am sure it shows. The point of RFID Arena is to publish freely written blog posts on RFID. As RFID Arena has no official editorial staff, but all the articles / blogs are written by RFID professionals than professional writers.
    beat regards,

  5. Gravatar of Jessica SäiläJessica Säilä
    Posted 05 December 2013 at 14:23:04

    Dear AH,

    Thank you for your kind comment. With I admit that even when trying to avoid it there is an "in-built" Nordic ID hat on me.
    RFID Arena welcomes also guest blogs so that we can share information that is free at least from our biases.
    Best regards,

  6. Gravatar of Jessica SäiläJessica Säilä
    Posted 05 December 2013 at 14:27:29

    Dear Curt,

    You are correct - barcodes are for free and RFID tags bear a cost. In fact in some cases barcodes make far more sense than RFID. It is the benefits over barcode that make the tag price affordable for RFID users. This we have discussed in several blogs - usually from Retail perspective though. Perhaps a barcode vs. RFID combat in more industries would be a good subject for a blog. We'll certainly keep it in mind.

    Best regards,

  7. Posted 08 December 2013 at 18:31:47

    Bar codes are free but it also need more free time to search long pending which is 1: 100 patience

  8. Posted 21 February 2014 at 04:52:24

    Maybe it takes time to shut down the barcode and used the RFID. They have same function not the ability. For now just used advanced technology for barcode.

  9. Posted 28 March 2014 at 12:13:21

    Very interesting and rewarding. many thanks I love it..

  10. Gravatar of iestyn armstrong-smithiestyn armstrong-smith
    Posted 12 June 2014 at 16:28:51

    Great article Jessica. In point 1, you could have mentioned sequentially numbered barcode labels are an option (but not many people bother with them unless for critical parts marking). I really enjoy reading RFID Arena, particularly as I used to edit an auto ID magazine and have written about for many years. Keep up the great work.

  11. Posted 13 October 2014 at 19:14:50

    Your step by step explanation is something for me to use when referencing the differences. 25,000 products per hour vs 250 stands out. Great article.

  12. Posted 13 October 2014 at 19:17:29

    I appreciate your example of using both barcodes and rfid in certain scenarios.

    Thank you.

  13. Gravatar of Kirsikka DrägerKirsikka Dräger
    Posted 20 October 2014 at 14:48:45

    We are happy that you enjoyed the article!

  14. Gravatar of Rahul GargRahul Garg
    Posted 27 March 2015 at 14:34:04

    Absolutely loved it. And definitely on it to implement it in our company's supply chain function.
    Many thanks Jess!!

  15. Gravatar of Uttam MukhopadhyayUttam Mukhopadhyay
    Posted 23 April 2015 at 07:17:32

    Can a retail shopper read the rfid code with a scanner and compare internet prices?

  16. Posted 28 June 2015 at 00:25:38

    Our company has just released a smartphone/tablet App based RFID platform. It runs Apps on both Android and iOS devices to connect to an RFID interrogator. We offer a very affordable out-of-the-box solution for any small or medium sized retailer to begin benefiting from the substantial benefits of RFID.

  17. Gravatar of SaisharanSaisharan
    Posted 23 December 2015 at 17:47:53

    can anyone tell me which is better while coming to cost RFID or Barcode.
    I would like to implement in my business.

  18. Gravatar of christianchristian
    Posted 08 January 2016 at 12:56:54

    Hi Jessica,

    Thank you for this informative article. I am a bit late as it is 2016 already so I'm not even sure you still check this blog but if you by some chance get this, please advise as to who would supply this technology?

    Thanks very much.

  19. Gravatar of Suvi DalénSuvi Dalén
    Posted 11 January 2016 at 11:17:42

    Hi Christian,

    Nordic ID provides this technology. Please visit wwww.nordicid.com for further information.


  20. Posted 02 April 2016 at 11:23:49

    Hey Jessica,
    Its really difficult to differentiate between bar code and RFID technologies.And I guess that image explains everything beautifully.
    Really beneficial post. :)
    Cheers buddy..!!!

  21. Gravatar of AJ AJ
    Posted 28 April 2016 at 21:04:22

    ? - In a typical gym setting should a person use RFID or barcode? ex. Client walks in and scans a ?? Their account pulls up and the client is allowed to enter.

  22. Posted 27 October 2016 at 23:27:16

    Nice article, we have a lot do not know about barcode

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