Digital Link Frequently Asked Questions
The GS1 Digital Link is essentially a standardized structure that allows a single 2D barcode to provide point of sale functionality and also behaves as a consumer-facing web-based URL to enhance a consumer experience.
Right now the Digital Link data can be encoded within 2D barcodes, such as GS1 QR Code and GS1 DataMatrix. However, a barcode is merely a “data carrier” and there are other identification carriers that can be used. NFC and RFID tags are two non-barcoded data carriers currently used in many retail environments and GS1 Digital Link data can be encoded in either.
As a global standards body, GS1 has simply created the data structure by which other companies use this functionality and 3rd parties can build applications to leverage the data now able to be conveyed in a single barcode (data carrier). Companies around the globe, including Bar Code Graphics, have taken part in drafting these global guidelines and structures. There are no additional fees to be paid to local GS1 country offices for using the data keys created from licensed company prefixes.
Most of mobile phone applications are built on unreliable data sources which do not publish data actually provided by the brand owner. There are numerous sources of user-entered data or “web scraped” data that aggregate UPC product data and are commonly providing inaccurate information. To learn more, please read https://www.barcode.graphics/whos-controlling-online-product-content/. The SmartLabel initiative (below) is a secondary QR code that does point to information managed by brand owners.
Whereas the term GS1 Digital LInk describes the technical schema, the actual barcode(s) on a product linking to the web are called GTIN Digital Link. Each product will carry it’s own GTIN Digital Link which essentially acts both as a point-of-sale barcode and a symbol enabling consumers to connect to a web page. Online applications and tools, such as the GTIN.cloud, provide companies the functionality to control GTIN Digital links for their individual products.
The larger CPG brands started an initiative to provide brand-controlled data using a secondary QR code. The functionality of the content of SmartLabel is similar. However, the GS1 Digital Link is only 1 barcode that can be used for POS checkout and by consumers for product data lookup. In addition, the robust nature of the Digital Link allows the use of a “Resolver” (below) which enables various applications to point to various web pages from the same single barcode.
The “resolver” component of the Digital Link enables a single barcode to point to various data sources depending on the application reading the symbol. Without a “resolver the link encoded within a barcode can only point to a single web address. Using a “resolver”, brands can direct different scans of the same barcode to the most appropriate final destination. For example, a product can have a single QR code on the packaging, but a scan with a “warehouse application” will lead to an entirely different end URL compared to a scan with a “consumer application”.
Since the Digital Link follows the GS1 identification structure, additional GTIN-centric data can also be encoded within the 2D barcode data structure. The additional information can include; batch/lot, expiration, new weight, SSC, and even a physical location (GLN).
It will be a very long time before the market and technology are ready to migrate away from the UPC barcode. There is a 2027 Sunset Date which GS1 published to encourage manufacturers to start integrating a 2D barcode alongside the existing UPC. Ultimately stores need to educate their staff on barcode orientation so there needs to be a lot of industry communication and education to address usability issues. Furthermore, coordinated industry work needs to be done to help migrate packages currently marked with an additional QR code to transition to the GS1 Digital Link. From a technology point of view, the printing industry will also have to evolve to a more digital printing process to encode supplemental GTIN information. Considering all of these points will take time, it will be quite some time before the UPC will actually be retired.
As the US barcode authority, we have created tens of millions of barcodes currently found on consumable products, books, and coupons. Our specialized web services provide .eps barcodes and we anticipate forging partnerships directly with brands so they can dynamically interface to our barcode creation web services to eliminate data entry. Please contact us at email@example.com for assistance and information.