World's best pricing system - bar none

BAR codes - the combination of numbers and lines which appear on everything from ice-cream to greetings cards - have been adopted by 60 countries worldwide.

The main benefit to consumers is they can clear the checkouts more quickly and pricing errors are eliminated with an itemised receipt available after the purchase is made.

In Hong Kong, the introduction of bar coding was made smoother by the Hong Kong Article Numbering Association (HKANA).

This is a non-profit organisation established under an international agreement to introduce and administer the international product numbering and bar coding standards in Hong Kong.

Bar coding and scanning are becoming popular in modern retail stores.

Among the organisations which are members of the HKANA are 7-Eleven stores, Watsons, Cafe de Coral, KPS video stores, Mannings, Park'N Shop, Vitasoy, Wellcome and Wing On.

It takes only two simple steps to have bar codes printed on products.

The outlet applies to the HKANA for an exclusive article number. The next step is to find a printer who can handle the requirements of printing a scannable symbol on to the packaging of the product.

Every product and every variation of that product in terms of size, colour and packaging carries its own number.

One flavour of ice cream will have a different number from another flavour and a case of one dozen cans will have a different number from the single can.

But unique article numbers alone do not make distribution any easier.

An accepted form of representing the number is required.

The most widely used article numbering standard in the world is the International Article Numbering Association Code (EAN), which typically has a 13-digit bar code.

The first three digits identify the nationality of the organisation issuing the bar codes. In Hong Kong, the country prefix used by the HKANA is 489.

The next four numbers identify the manufacturer of a product and is allocated by the HKANA to all its members.

The next five digits are allocated by the manufacturer to each of its specific products. A total of 100,000 item numbers can be created by these five digits.

The last digit serves as an accuracy check on the entire number by scanning devices.

In order to make the public more familiar with bar coding and scanning technology, the HKANA is again supporting the Information Technology (IT) In Shopping campaign this year.

The organisation has planned a Scan and Win game at the IT Week Roadshow.

Checkout scanning counters will be set up and contestants will be asked to scan a trolley of groceries as quickly as possible.

Those who achieve the pre-determined time will receive a prize.

Grand prizes, including a mini hi-fi system, vacuum cleaner and air cleaner, will be offered in each venue to contestants with the fastest time.

And to encourage shoppers' understanding of the use of bar code scanning, a ''Pit your Wits'' quiz has also been organised with the chance to win more prizes.