Article by Nicholas. Updated November 11, 2020

Wrigley was the first company to have its 10-pack chewing gum logged into a grocery store barcoding system using a modern UPC on June 26th, 1974. Since then, commerce has evolved and barcodes have been the go-to for tracking purchase patterns and managing inventories. This technology was the norm until the 1990s when Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) started making its way as an alternative in the retail industry.

Today, both barcode and RFID technologies are viable options for any business.

Choices lead to competitions, and competitions lead to comparisons - Barcode & RFID, what are their similarities & differences? You see, these questions are often asked in all sorts of industries but if you think about it, their differences are pretty straightforward. In fact, once you have finished reading this article, it may seem obvious that RFID has the edge on barcodes.

However, if RFID is truly the "winner", why hasn't it replaced barcode entirely? Is new always better? Like any other technologies, RFID has its limitations - and so does barcoding.

This article encompasses:-

  1. recap of barcode & RFID technologies
  2. how tracking takes place
  3. advantages & disadvantages
  4. is new always better?
  5. conclusion


If you have read our previous articles on barcode and RFID respectively, then you should have a clear grasp on what they are and how they function. If you are new then, here’s a short recap for you!

Barcoding uses a scanner to read black and white lines of a barcode. The scanner’s sensor creates a signal from the reflected light, and its decoder then turns the signal into text before sending it to a database. To capture the data, line of sight is important for barcode scanners and barcode must be “seen” one at a time for its data to be captured.

RFID is also known as radio-frequency identification. It depends on radio waves to transmit information from RFID tags to an RFID reader. RFID tags have a sensor attached to an antenna which allows for data transmission to the reader. RFID readers can scan at least a hundred tags at a time and do not need a line of sight visibility to work.


Barcoding is done by using a handheld scanner or if items are passed through a fixed scanning site. Whichever the method, the scanner has to be able to directly read each barcode label to “see” its unique image. This is the line of sight visibility. Each barcode label has to be clean & intact too. If either of these requirements is not met, no data would be displayed. Hence, barcoding is a meticulous action that must be taken place in a particular method otherwise, it will not work.

RFID tags, on the other hand, must be within an antenna’s range to be detected. Multiple antennas can read a high number of tags because they can operate simultaneously. As these antennas can be programmed into several configurations and setup with different ranges, a passive and highly automated procedure can be designed depending on what suits the workflow best.

Both barcode and RFID can inform users if an inventory item is in stock or out of stock – checked in or checked out. An item’s current state together with generic product information such as name, manufacturer, and the country it’s originated from can be recorded using barcoding technology. This barcoding’s bread & butter has been the monopoly of retail for decades until today despite the emergence of RFID because that is somewhat everything that is needed. Let’s take an ice-cream for example. When you have its barcode scanned at the counter, the system reads:

“A vanilla-flavored ice cream, manufactured by Häagen-Dazs, in a mini cup is being checked out, delete it from the database.”

The convenience store may have 30 of those ice creams in that flavor and type. When that barcode is scanned, the system adjusts that total to show it now has only 29 left. It does not show specifically which one of those 30 ice creams you took, nor does that matter for the store because the barcode provides the important information they require to record sales and adjust their inventory correctly & precisely.

Next, if you need to capture data about each specific, physical item in your inventory, RFID would be a more suitable option. For example, attendee tracking. Nowadays, most companies utilize the RFID concept where employees have their unique office cards (RFID tags) scanned by an RFID reader to enter/leave their offices. Once scanned, their detailed information will enter the database. This information includes the first person who checked in or the last person who checked out, which department that person is from, the time it happened, and more. Hence, RFID systems cater to more extensive and specified data on each tagged item.

If you think about it, the barcode is the go-to when it comes to simple & accurate inventory management while RFID is considered when there is a need for more granular data collection. So, is new always better?


Small overall cost involved in the ink & periodic machine maintenance.
Multiple RFID tags of at least 100 can be read simultaneously.
Retail products’ norm; stores owning a barcode reader can read barcodes from any country. Vastly used in inventory tracking.
RFID has high-security levels; the password can be protected, the “kill” feature can be included to permanently delete data if needed, and data can be encrypted.
Accuracy is maintained at top-quality regardless of materials in which barcodes are placed. In many cases, barcode accuracy is proven to be even better than RFID tags.
RFID tags are protected by a plastic layer, hence can be used over and over again.
-Easy to Use-
Barcode is lighter in weight, smaller in size, and it is on every product you see daily.
An RFID tag has a sensor attached to an antenna, allowing data to be transferred to the reader from far distance without line of sight visibility.
No need for manual tracking anymore, hence, the possibility of human error is removed.


Once tempered, the barcode cannot be scanned.
The signal’s impact is easily affected by liquid & metal.
Barcode must be scanned in a straight line only. Otherwise, it won’t work.
RFID tags have inbuilt chips, making them more expensive than a barcode. RFID readers are also 10x more costly than barcode scanners.
-Close Range-
The product must stay close to the barcode scanner.
RFID system requires thorough planning, along with a clear understanding of the technology and your business which could take a long time to deploy it.
-Prone to Errors-
You could easily scan the same items multiple times when you are only trying to scan them from a specific location because the RFID reader scans all tags within its range.


So, is new always better? In today’s modern mindset, most of us would prefer the new because new is somewhat the upgrade and the better version of the old. However, in the case of our article, if RFID is the superior choice over barcode, why hasn’t it replaced barcode completely? You may realize that the question, “is new always better?” appears several times. Yes, the repetition is intended to have you thinking again on whether new technology is always the better choice.

It is undeniable that RFID is way faster because it can scan many tags at a time simultaneously. However, as mentioned earlier, that ability is not necessarily an advantage because errors may arise from the same items being scanned more than once. It is a problem to differentiate scanned items from items that have to be recorded. Aside from that, RFID does not work well when placed on liquids or metals. On the other hand, barcodes work well on different substances. Yes, barcode scanning requires a line of sight visibility, but it is more accurate than RFID tags that emit radio waves. Being quicker at the expense of accuracy isn’t worth it at all.

Another important factor to consider is cost. RFIDs are definitely not cheap when it comes to implementation. From RFID tags to specialized readers, a sophisticated technology like RFID can cost companies a fortune! This is also the barcode’s biggest advantage. Generally, all products from any industry come pre-labeled with barcodes. From the suppliers’ perspective, barcode labeling on products is a routine cost in business. It simply means that no additional investments are required from companies with their supply chain partners.

Over the years, RFIDs have gained more popularity and continued to grow at a tremendous speed to a point where businesses have to pick between them and barcodes. Even so, RFIDs are still considered new and not as widely used as barcodes. For most existing companies, barcodes have been the obvious pick for tracking inventories. If a company wishes to implement an RFID system and liaises with their suppliers, they need to integrate their RFID usage with its barcode system. However, this may be an issue because they may not have the infrastructure due to differences in tracking systems and limited suppliers who are familiar with RFIDs.


New is not necessarily always better, at least for RFID and barcode technologies. Each system has its benefits & limitations and one may be more favorable to suit your business models. Hence, we cannot say that one is more superior to the other.

To choose the best option, you need to balance your decision between budgetary restrictions and disruption minimization to business as usual. Aside from that, it is also essential for you to know what you are tracking, what you need to know about what you are tracking, and also how tracking takes place.

If you seek for efficient logistics, accuracy, and affordability, barcode technology should be highly considered. If you seek for flexibility & time-efficiency in an end-to-end manufacturing or large asset management, RFID may be the better choice but with compatible technology to support the system.

While RFIDs may be more innovative compared to barcodes, barcodes possess important benefits for companies to enjoy while having their product qualities maintained.