The COVID-19 pandemic not only revealed some glaring weaknesses in the supply chain, but it also produced some additional challenges for logistics providers. Various household and medical products experienced a surge in demand while suppliers struggled to get goods from one point to another. While multiple factors determine the efficiency of the overall supply chain, labeling is one element that affects every stage of the process.
Labeling Challenges Facing the Supply Chain
When organizations rely on complex labeling systems, the results can be inefficiencies, poor customer service, and increased costs. Some businesses even experience expensive penalties and chargebacks when labeling issues are tied to product errors or recalls. Here are some of the top labeling challenges facing the supply chain.
1. Evolving standards and regulations
One of the biggest challenges supply chain organizations face is complying with global labeling standards and regulations. For example, various governing bodies, like the USDA, FTC, EPA, DOE, EU, CPSC, and OSHA, can tell you what you must put (or can’t put) on your packages.
As a business, you need to comply with all standards or face potential fines and other penalties. You also need to remain agile, meaning you’re able to quickly modify your labels to comply with any changes to regulations.
2. Labeling and barcode issues
Labeling errors can impact the entire supply chain as well as the end user. They can lead to inefficiencies, which increase costs and product recalls. Common labeling errors include:
- Incorrect information — Errors with dates, product information, or other data can impact supply chain efficiency and even lead to recalls.
- Wrong placement — When a product label is in the wrong location, it can be difficult to scan.
- Color issues — Using the wrong colors in your labeling can make them unreadable and even create compliance issues.
- Poor quality — If the print quality is poor or the label material itself isn’t good quality, it won’t scan properly.
3. Supporting multiple languages
If you do business globally, you may run across the issue of your labels supporting multiple languages. In fact, many businesses in some U.S. markets are looking for ways to serve non-English speaking customers.
4. Customer requirements
Customer preferences now play a much larger role in product labeling. Consumers spend more time than ever reading labels and researching brands before choosing products. Many also want to support businesses that use sustainable practices. Having as much information as possible on labels can help customers make more informed purchasing decisions.
5. Industry-specific challenges
Some labeling challenges are industry-specific. For example, the FDA has specific requirements for all nutrition facts labels that include serving size, calories, daily values, and more. The TTB has other requirements for malt beverage labeling, wine, and other alcoholic beverages. There will be entirely different requirements for household items, children’s toys, and pharmaceuticals.
Developing a Better Labeling Strategy
Every industry faces unique labeling challenges. But when those problems become so pervasive that they impact the customer experience and business profitability, it’s time to make some changes. Many businesses are already taking a closer look at ways to improve their labeling strategies. Some suggestions include:
Label Management System
If you’re managing your label data using clipboards or Excel spreadsheets, it’s time to upgrade. A robust label management system can help you keep track of the information each of your labels will store and/or display. As you decide to make changes or regulations necessitate a change, this type of system will make things much quicker and error-free.
RFID stands for radio-frequency identification. This technology uses radio waves to transmit data from an RFID tag to a reader about an item’s location and condition. This technology has become increasingly useful in supply chain management for things like inventory control and order fulfillment.
RFID tags can be attached to packaging or products and scanned en masse as these items move through the supply chain. This data provides real-time information about stock levels, environmental conditions, and the location of items. RFID tags can also hold data to comply with some regulations, such as expiration dates.
In addition to RFID tags, QR codes can be used as supplemental labels on products. For example, a QR code can be placed on a product, directing customers to a video with additional safety information. For non-English speaking customers, a properly-labeled QR code can send customers to a site with relevant information in different languages.
Being able to print labels anywhere saves time, reduces errors, and boosts productivity. Whether on the manufacturing floor or in the warehouse, many businesses are choosing to use mobile printing stations for workflow. These moveable stations can hold wireless printers to create RFID labels or QR codes, allowing workers to tag items quickly.
In addition to printing RFID tags, mobile workstations allow workers to print other labels necessary to keep the business operating efficiently. These might include shipping, hazard, or other compliance labels to be placed on products, packaging, or pallets.
In addition to implementing RFID tags for better labeling, supply chain partners are realizing the benefits of sharing information to improve visibility throughout the supply chain. More and more businesses are integrating their systems to allow complete visibility regarding real-time product tracking.
The impact that the pandemic had on the global supply chain will continue to shape how the industry operates for many years to come. A key trend emerging is innovation in every aspect of logistics, including labeling. Supply chain partners are considering different ways to improve processes and boost efficiency using labels like RFID and better in-house processes like mobile printing stations.