QR codes, barcodes, and RFID: What’s the difference?


Barcodes have been around for decades. They are versatile with a large variety of uses — especially in retail, manufacturing settings, and in transport and shipping.

We’re used to seeing the common barcode printed on packaging at the grocery store or in other retail outlets, like when items are passed over the barcode reader at the checkout counter to ring up a sale. Barcodes not only are valuable at the point of sale but also for managing inventory and raw materials internally so that tracking is done accurately and without error. 

Barcodes have become common in shipping, to enable greater accuracy and speed in getting packages delivered. And barcodes are used to manage large filing systems, library books, and a host of other purposes where large numbers of items need to be tracked efficiently.

Barcodes are a relatively inexpensive solution help to reduce labor costs, drive efficiency, and overall profitability.

QR Codes

A recent trend among small businesses is the growing use of QR codes. QR codes are similar in one sense to barcodes, in that they contain information, but must be read by a 2D barcode reader like the Scanfob® 3002i Scanner, or by camera-equipped smartphones.

QR codes have been around for years, but in the last 12 months there has been a skyrocket in usage among entrepreneurs as mobile tablet and smartphone markets have grown dramatically. QR Codes are well suited for marketing purposes, ticketing, container tracking, and more. It is becoming more common to receive business cards with QR Codes on them. Thit way, you get access to a lot more information than can fit on a small card. For instance, you might hand out business cards at an event containing a QR code that leads people to a Web page with a special offer for attendees. Or the QR Code on a business card might contain a V-card (digital business card) that you can save into your smartphone contacts without having to manually input the card information.

Your business might give out promotional materials, such as a coffee mug imprinted with a QR code where someone can find out more information about your company.  Or how about imprinting a QR Code on one of those pop-up banners when exhibiting at your next trade show? Attendees can scan your company’s information by holding their smartphones up to the banner — so you don’t have to shell out for expensive printed materials and they don’t have to lug that heavy paper home on the plane.

QR Codes have infinite uses in small businesses, especially for marketing and asset tracking.


RFID (radio frequency identification) has likewise been around for decades.  However, RFID tends to require more technological hand-holding and setup. RFID involves applying or embedding RFID tags to items or boxes or pallets. Tags vary greatly in size, shape, and capabilities. The RFID tag antenna is energized by an RFID reader and emits a radio frequency signal that is picked up and read by the RFID reader, like the idChamp RS3, conveying information from the tag about the item it is affixed to.

RFID is adaptable to many of the same use cases that barcodes are great for, and in some cases where barcodes are not an option, but the need to accurately track is present. RFID is especially useful in situations where vast quantities of goods must be moved or tracked, or where tracking of item-specific information is necessary like in supply chains, manufacturing, laboratory environments, agricultural services, and employee tracking.

RFID has been mandated by some customers, such as Wal-Mart and the Department of Defense to track the vast quantities of items they in their supply chains and to supply much more detailed reporting information. In such situations, RFID is able to do it more quickly, effectively, and efficiently than barcodes.


RFID, barcodes and QR Codes all have their place for different purposes under different circumstances. As with most technology, the cost to acquire and use continues to drop with each passing year. All 3 of these data management systems have also become much easier to implement with the growth of tablets and smartphones. There is little excuse for not using technology to operate your business more efficiently and effectively — it’s just a question of which technology is better for your needs and your budget.