How to barcode a warehouse

How to barcode a warehouse
How to barcode a warehouse

Instinctively, when putting in a warehouse management system (WMS) that uses barcoding, immediate concerns are what to barcode, how to barcode it, and when. If your products are not already labelled or even assigned barcodes then doing this will be a top priority for the start of the warehouse management system project.

[Related: How to barcode my locations that have no racking]

Assigning every product a unique barcode

If all of your products are already assigned unique barcodes, as can be the case for some retailers, then you are in luck, but it is very rare that a company has everything barcoded from day one. Most companies will have to spend some time prior to installing their WMS to get their barcode assignment in order.

The first thing to check before you start assigning a barcode to a product is whether it already has a barcode assigned to it by the manufacturer.

How to input manufacturer barcodes into your existing product file

If your products are from established manufacturers then it si highly likely that they will already have been assigned a barcode value. If you haven't used the barcodes on products in the past you many not have recorded them in your product file.

There are a number of ways to go about entering barcode values into your existing product files. For the purpose of this guide, the 'existing product file' is the database in your core or master database of product data. We have found that this is usually in a company's Magento database, Sage accounting software, or in an excel spreadsheet.

How to enter barcode values

  • If there is a field for a barcode value then you can enter the manufacturer's barcode there.
  • If there is not such a field then you will need to create one.
  • If it is not possible to have a barcode field added to your existing product files then it may be a case of using an existing field that is empty. The field should be alphanumeric or numeric.
  • If this is not possible, you may not need to record them here at all. If you do not do this then it is recommended that the warehouse management system becomes the master product file in the future.
  • If the existing product files are to become obsolete then you can assign the manufacturer's barcodes to the products after an export to excel spreadsheet format or similar. This can then be imported directly into the warehouse management software.

Top tip: If the products that you need to assign manufacturers' barcodes to are already barcoded, we recommend using a barcode scanner to input the data into the relevant field. This can be a practical solution for retail store owners and eCommerce as it speeds up the process and removes the margin for human error.

How to get a barcode for products that do not have one

Best practice: sign up to become a GS1 member

GS1 set the global standard for barcoding and you will need to join them to be given a range of barcode values to assign to your products. The role of GS1 is to distribute barcode values to retailers and manufacturers, ensuring that barcodes remain unique.

The process does have costs tied to it. It is £190.00 to become a member and there is an annual membership fee of £200.00.

A benefit of assigning barcodes like this is that it is a requirement for submitting products to Amazon for sale via their channel. Another benefit can be realised if you wholesale products or would like to in the future. Wholesale customers will be happy that they are able to barcode scan your products through their retail point of sale barcode system.

Download your range of barcode values to assign to your products

Once you are signed up to GS1, they will give you a range of barcode values for you to assign to your unique stock keeping units (SKUs). The barcode data will come to you in the form of an excel spreadsheet. The challenge then is to input the barcodes against your products in your main product database.

Export your products from your core system

You need to get your products exported into a format that will enable you to enter the barcode values in full. The easiest way to do this is to export to excel, which can be done from most standard formats e.g. CSV, text file. Once in an excel format, the next step is to add the barcode column to the products database. There are a few scenarios that you may face here:

Scenario 1: Some of your products already have barcodes

If some but not all of your products already have barcodes then you will need to sort your spreadsheet A-Z by the column that contains the existing barcode values. Note that if some of your products have manufacturer barcodes for you to assign, make sure that you complete this work first. Sorting the spreadsheet this way will separate all of the products already assigned a barcode from those without barcodes. You can then copy and paste barcode values from the GS1 spreadsheet into the column to fill the empty fields.

Scenario 2: None of your products have abarcode, but there is a barcode column

In this situation, simple copy and paste the barcode values into the barcode column. This is the ideal scenario because it will be easy to import your newly-populated barcode fields into your existing product files.

Scenario 3: None of your products have a barcode and there isn't a barcode column

Firstly, past the barcode column from the barcode excel spreadsheet supplied by GS1 into a new column on the products spreadsheet. Secondly, you will need to make a decision on which field to populate with the barcode value - any alphanumeric field will work. If there are not empty fields available, you may be able to ask your software provider to add a new field for you.

If they are unable to do this, then you can assign the barcode values to the products when you export them for import into the warehouse management system. If you do this then we recommend using your WMS as the master product file in the future. If you do not, then you will need to manually enter a barcode against each new product as it is imported from the master product file.

[Related: How to map and label your eCommerce warehouse]

Keen to learn more about barcoding your warehouse with a WMS? Arrange a call with one of our specialists today. 

Author: Jess Lawrence