Product barcodes reveal recovery of China’s consumption

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Product barcode, the black and white strips with corresponding numbers printed on the packages of a commodity, is the the unique identification of a product, as well as an “ID card” and “passport” in market circulation.

In the first quarter of this year, China registered 4.13 million types of new consumer goods using product barcodes, a year-on-year increase of 9.5 percent. The total types of consumer goods in the country exceeded 196.15 million, among the highest in the world.

With this “ID card,” a product can be quickly identified and read by supermarkets’ cash register scanners, warehouse management readers, and consumers’ smartphone cameras. With backend data in information systems, information such as the product’s specifications, price, manufacturer, and other extended details can be obtained. 

This enables fast and accurate operations such as searching, price comparison, inventory, and settlement, ensuring that products can be found quickly, accurately, and correctly in a vast amount of information, as well as the compliant, safe, and efficient circulation of goods.

Barcodes reveal the trend of consumption recovery in the Chinese market. In 2023, there were 19.64 million types of newly registered consumer goods using barcodes, a year-on-year increase of 19.2 percent. It marked the first positive growth in China in the past four years. Among the 41 major categories of consumer goods using barcodes, 39 experienced growth, reflecting a vibrant and encouraging picture of consumption recovery in the Chinese market.

Feng Bin, an official with the GS1 China, said that with the implementation of national policies to restore and expand consumption, service-oriented sectors such as tourism and entertainment are seeing a significant uptick. This, combined with a surge in consumer spending, is fueling an increase in the supply of consumer goods, he added.

“The stimulus from policies and increased willingness are the reasons behind the rebound in the growth of newly registered consumer goods in China. It signifies that sustained consumer demand is an important force supporting economic growth,” said Zhu Yanjian, director of the Department of Finance at Zhejiang University’s School of Economics.

According to statistics, in the first quarter of 2024, an average of about 400 companies successfully applied for product barcodes per working day. As of the end of March 2024, the total number of registered barcode users in China exceeded 1.2 million, leading the world for years.

At present, the increasing vitality at the consumer end is impacting the production end. “The barcode of a product is registered by the enterprise and represents the true entry of the product into the market. The rebound in this statistical data indicates that the recovery of the consumer market is effectively driving production on the supply side,” Zhu told People’s Daily.

The barcode data obtained in the first quarter reveals a significant growth in audiovisual and photography products related to livestreaming. There has been an impressive increase of 59,000 new varieties, representing a year-on-year growth of 124.4 percent. Notably, there has been a substantial rise in recording or digital media equipment with an addition of 24,235 varieties, followed by a growth of 10,416 varieties in photography equipment and 7,761 varieties in audiovisual accessories.

These figures indicate the rapid development of the livestreaming industry, which has forcefully driven the rapid growth of audiovisual and photography products, Feng said.

According to him, these numbers demonstrate the immense potential and vitality of the Chinese online audiovisual market, as well as the flourishing development of the related industrial chain. Particularly, the strong demand for high-definition cameras and professional microphones driven by the livestreaming business has injected new momentum into the audiovisual and photography industry.

By tracking the barcodes, it is possible to create a big data profile for billions of products, providing insights into industry development trends. 

Looking at the growth of categories, in the first quarter, out of the 41 major categories of registered consumer goods using barcodes, 27, or 65.9 percent, experienced positive growth. Among them, the top five categories with the highest number of new additions were clothing, food, beverages and tobacco, healthcare products, footwear, and beauty, personal care and hygiene products.

Zhu believes that the accelerated improvement in the supply of consumer goods closely related to people’s daily lives, such as clothing, food, healthcare, and personal care, explains that people’s needs for a better life are well addressed. 

In the future, the country should guide and encourage the consumption of services in fields with higher technological content, such as smart home furnishing, high-tech electronic products, etc. In this way, consumption upgrade will effectively drive the transformation and upgrading of industries.

Feng said that as China cultivates and strengthens new forms of consumption such as digital consumption, green consumption, and health consumption, and the policies promoting large-scale equipment renewals and trade-ins of consumer goods take effect, greater consumption potential is expected to be unleashed, which will further stimulate market vitality, and promote high-quality economic and social development.



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