March 18, 2020 Last updated March 25th, 2020 594 Reads share

RFID Tags vs Barcodes

Image Credit: DepositPhotos

There is a debate raging regarding whether RFID Tags will overthrow Barcodes or whether Barcodes in South Africa still have a role to play. They are both a way of collecting data.  The big question is:  Is one method better or more effective than the other?  This is for you to decide.  In this article, I will explain more about the differences between barcodes and RFID tags as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each.  After this, hopefully, you will have all the information you need in order to make an informed decision about the worth of both EAN & UPC barcodes and RFID tags when you are in the market to buy a barcode.

What Is the Difference?

GS1 barcodes can be described as unique codes that are registered with a store or retailer in order to be able to monitor the sales of a product.  There are many different types of barcodes. However, the two main types are EAN & UPC barcodes.  Other barcodes include QR codes, ISBN & ISSN barcodes and ITF-14 barcodes.  At the moment, barcodes are used throughout the retail industry both here in South Africa as well as throughout the world.  You can barely buy anything without using a barcode.

On the other hand, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Device) tags are used in a system that operates with radio frequencies to track and monitor products.  An RFID tag is attached to a product that then monitors the product with the use of radio waves.   The tag can store up to 2000 bytes of information.  The system consists of the tag, a structure for processing of data as well as a read/write mechanism.  It has only recently been developed and is mostly used in the manufacturing process and the management of the supply chain.  You won’t see them in retailers or stores.

Advantages and Disadvantages

There are many advantages and disadvantages to both barcodes and RFID tags.  Here are the advantages of bar codes.

  • Barcodes tend to be of a smaller size than RFID tags as well as being a lot lighter. This will make them more user-friendly.
  • Barcodes are much less expensive than RFID tags. This is a big advantage, especially in the South African economy.  Small businesses do not have the capital to invest in expensive machinery.
  • Barcodes operate with accuracy on a myriad of different materials.
  • Barcodes have become the norm for all retailers, throughout South Africa as well as overseas. Therefore, they have a universal appeal.  People understand and know barcodes.  Any store with a scanner can make use of codes, without the need to spend any more money.
  • Along with this, since barcodes are used everywhere, there are no privacy issues involved.
  • Often, Barcode technology is actually even more effective than RFID tags.

However, there are downsides to barcodes that also need to be explored in order to gain a full picture of the situation:

  • In order to read barcodes, the scanner needs direct access to the barcode. This makes them more cumbersome to use. Also the barcode scanner needs to be very close in order to scan the barcode.
  • Barcodes store a limited amount of information (such as the manufacturer as well as the product). They do not have enough space to store other information such as the expiry date.
  • Barcodes tend to use a lot of labor as each barcode must be scanned on its own.
  • Due to their fragile nature, barcodes are very easy to damage and once this happens, the barcode scanner will not be able to scan them
  • There are certain security issues when using barcodes as they can be easily forged. This added risk may place small businesses in Cape Town in a vulnerable position.

Let’s take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of RFID Tags.  The following are the advantages of using RFID Tags.

  • Scanners can read RFID tags from a further away.
  • It is not necessary for the RFID tags to be placed in sight of the scanner.
  • Scanners can read RFID tags very quickly, saving time and money.
  • They are read/write tools. Therefore, they can store a much larger amount of data than barcodes can.  For example, they can store expiry dates, in detail information regarding the product or the company.
  • There is a very high level of security with RFID tags as they cannot be forged or reproduced. They self-sabotage should data be at risk and the data is deleted permanently.
  • Once the system is up and running, RFID tagging can operate without much input from humans. Therefore they are not as labor intensive as barcodes are.
  • They are able to be reused. This is due to the fact that they have a plastic cover to protect them.

This all sounds amazing, but let’s take a moment to look at the disadvantages of RFID Tagging before we jump to any conclusions about which method is more effective.

  • The start-up process of RFID tags is very expensive – a lot more expensive than barcodes.
  • The RFID scanners find it very difficult to read the information when going through liquid or metal. This limits them.
  • It is possible that two different readers can interfere with each other, leading to confusion. The tag can’t react to either reader, rendering the tag useless.
  • Sometimes more than one tag will react to the reader – which leads to even greater confusion.


In conclusion, there are good sides and bad sides to both Barcodes and RFID tags.  Here at Buy Barcodes South Africa, we believe that both barcodes and RFID tags have their place in the world.  They both play separate, but much needed roles.  It is not necessary to choose between them.  Barcodes and RFID tags are suited to specific situations.  Therefore the question you should ask yourself isn’t what is the best method to use?  The question to ask is which method will suit this specific situation the best?  This will give you a more accurate and useful answer.

RFID tags are not ringing the death bell for barcodes. Buy Barcodes SA is confident that barcodes are here for the long haul.  We are excited to be part of the advancement of code technology and welcome you to join us in this exciting process.

pharmacist scanning barcode -DepositPhotos

Samantha Mitchell

Samantha Mitchell

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