29. Barcode Beginnings

Photo: (Both) A FairPrice cashier scanning a barcode. In 1991, FairPrice was the first supermarket to implement widespread

White labels sporting small numbers and black vertical lines of varying thickness might be a ubiquitous sight today. But barcodes, and the beeps that come from scanning one, were a novelty in Singapore some 30 years ago.

In 1991, FairPrice was the first supermarket to implement widespread “barcoding,” which eradicated the need for manual price tagging and eased the checkout process.

Cashiers just had to scan the barcode on each item and the name and price would show up on the cash register. The system would then immediately tally up the total cost and process the data for digital stock tracking. By the end of 1993, the barcode system was used in all FairPrice supermarkets.

But it required performance testing as digital tracking of transactions was still new. This was done by the Consumers Association of Singapore, which surveyed over 1,500 transactions at three separate supermarkets. The barcode system aced the test with 100 per cent accuracy. Following FairPrice’s success, all supermarkets in Singapore adopted the barcode system.

Since its humble beginnings in a corner of Toa Payoh, NTUC FairPrice has become the quintessential Singaporean supermarket. The leap from a single store to a grocery giant is a tale of retail reinvention – a half-century journey that saw the cooperative confront crises and challenges, revamps and even robbers.

As it expanded and evolved, FairPrice never wavered from its core mission: to moderate the cost of living for consumers. It Takes a Great Deal - A Catalogue of FairPrice Group Stories encapsulates the birth of the consumer cooperative in 1973 and its transformation into a $4 billion food enterprise that is now called FairPrice Group.

Through 50 remarkable stories, we celebrate the people, products and places that mark significant milestones for the food retailer over the last five decades, charting its growth and successes in the past, present and into the future.