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GS1 US Releases Data Hub to Help Retailers Decode RFID Tags, Bar-Code Labels

With the GS1 Data Hub, retailers or other users could input a Global Trade Item Number or a company prefix and identify which product supplier provided that item, as well as help verify the accuracy of data related to the tag or label, and the corresponding merchandise.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 28, 2014

GS1 US has released a service known as the GS1 US Data Hub that enables retailers to quickly identify a product supplier by means of an RFID or bar-code label attached to that item, and helps to confirm that the label (and, thus, the product) is authentic. With the service, released at the end of 2013, retailers and other users can read the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) encoded on the RFID tag or bar-code label attached to a piece of merchandise and, based on the company prefix encoded in that GTIN, identify the product's supplier. In addition, they could possibly identify whether the tag (and, by inference, the product) is a counterfeit.

The GS1 US Data Hub is intended to address any potential confusion that could result from the ubiquity of the variety of bar-code labels showing up on products in stores, as well as the growing number of EPC ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags being used at the item level for the purpose of improving supply chain visibility and inventory tracking. For bar-code users, the confusion can be a matter of identifying details such as the company from which a specific item (a piece of fruit or vegetable, for example) originated, based on the company prefix printed on a small, bar-coded sticker. For RFID users, the hub is intended to help retailers do the same—identify the company that supplied that tagged product.

After logging into GS1 US Data Hub, a user can obtain information regarding a product supplier by searching according to the company prefix, either by GTIN or by GLN. (Click here to view a larger version of the above image.)
Every GTIN consists of a series of digits that explain what the item that has been tagged is, along with whose product it is and where it originated. A company code—consisting of a six- to 11-digit prefix unique to that firm—is part of that number. By reading the GTIN, therefore, users should be able to identify the company that tagged that item.

Sue Hutchinson, GS1 US' director of portfolio strategy, explains that users of the bar-code labels may find the GTIN difficult to decipher, as they must sort through a variety of types of bar codes, on products that are becoming ever smaller. When GS1 US began seeking a solution to enable businesses to identify which company is associated with a particular GTIN, she says, the organization had both bar codes and RFID in mind. Although no RFID users participated in the GS1 US Data Hub's development, she notes, the program's early participants may include RFID users.

Fewer than 10 companies have signed up to use the service to date, Hutchinson reports. Companies signing up, as well as firms that participated in the Data Hub's development, consist of retailers—both online and brick-and-mortar—as well as providers of inventory-management software or other solutions, and operators of Web-based network Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) "data pools." Initially, she says none are employing RFID; however, another company planning to try the service is a larger retailer that uses RFID labels, but that has asked to remain unnamed.

Any search results that are returned can then be exported for use in reports or in other applications. (Click here to view a larger version of the above image.)
"To our way of thinking, both RFID and bar-code users would benefit from the GS1 US Data Hub," Hutchinson states. "The specific data-capture technology you choose to use—RFID or bar code—is only as good as the quality of the information that's conveyed." She adds that "The GS1 US Data Hub helps confirm that the data we're capturing was built from a globally unique root—the GS1 company prefix."

The retailer that intends to use the Data Hub, Hutchinson says, receives thousands of RFID tags on products. At times, goods arrive with tags encoded with company prefixes not stored in the retailer's IT system. This could indicate the tags originated from a vendor that may have begun tagging goods on its own, or there could be a mistake on the GTIN (the person who encoded the tags may have input the incorrect company code, for example). Another possible cause of the problem—which Hutchinson says is not common—would be a company that is supplying counterfeit products and creating its own RFID labels for those bogus goods. The GS1 US Data Hub would help to ensure that such counterfeits would be spotted, she says, before ending up on store shelves. For instance, if a retailer receives a shipment of high-end handbags and reads the RFID tags attached to them, it can feed each tag's GTIN into the Data Hub to confirm the goods were tagged by the high-end manufacturer that the retailer presumes it to be, based on the company prefix.

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