Product Identification 101: Everything You Need to Know About UPCs on Amazon



A hot topic among the Amazon seller community is whether you need to go to GS1 US to obtain authentic UPCs or find them through another website. Jon at Black Label Advisor asked me to help demystify the GS1 process, provide some education on the new GS1 US $30 single UPC option, and shed some light on why Amazon prefers you list your products using a GS1-sourced UPC.


What is GS1 US?


GS1 US is part of one of the largest identification and standards organizations in the world. Best known as the administrator of the UPC barcode, GS1 US maintains and advocates for the use of a host of data standards that support the supply chain and ecommerce. 

As a not-for-profit organization, GS1 US helps companies uniquely identify products, locations, and other assets and share information about them with trading partners and consumers in a consistent way. Additionally, the organization collaborates with a variety of industries to develop best practices for developing efficient supply chains, effective business relationships and providing consumers access to trustworthy information about the products they buy.


What are GTINs? Are they the same as UPCs?


GTIN stands for Global Trade Item Number. They are the numbers encoded into a UPC (universal product code), also known as the barcode, which you see on products every day and are read by a barcode scanner. The UPC barcode is the black lines and spaces that are scanned at checkout. The “beep” of a barcode scan is heard more than 6 billion times around the globe daily! While the GTIN is encoded into the lines and spaces, it’s also the 12-digit number you see under the barcode and is used online in e-commerce transactions where scanning a product doesn’t happen during checkout.


It is a common misconception that a UPC and GTIN are interchangeable and the same thing. Some marketplace guidelines will refer to both UPCs and GTINs, however, the UPC is a barcode symbol with black lines and spaces, and the GTIN is the identification number encoded into it. GTINs are also used in online product listings to help form a bridge between a product’s physical presence and its digital identity and to prove product authenticity. A UPC barcode, together with a product’s GTIN make it easy for businesses to track a product and facilitate price look-up.


Why do you need a GTIN from GS1 US?


There is a big opportunity for e-commerce businesses to benefit from identifying products with GTINs, as they help products surface in more search engine results online. GTINs can also help small businesses build credibility. Online marketplaces like Amazon require GTINs because they help sellers prove that they are selling legitimate products, and that that product is linked to only your brand. Amazon states in its seller guidelines that their product managers will check all GTINs provided to them against the GS1 database and sellers may be delisted if the numbers are found to be invalid.


How do I get a GTIN?


There are two options for obtaining authentic GTINs. For small businesses, the best option may be to license individual GS1 US GTINs for $30 each. This is a new offering recently launched in response to feedback from members who were looking for more flexible product identification options.


For businesses that plan to launch 10 or more products or product variations, another option is to license a GS1 Company Prefix, which allows brands to create authentic GTINs in bundles of 10, 100, and other bulk quantities. The Prefix represents the first few numbers of the product GTIN and is what links a brand to a product -- that’s why it’s valuable to retailers and marketplaces so that they can confirm authenticity.


GS1 US offers an estimator tool, which helps business owners determine which option is right for them-- single GS1 US GTIN or a GS1 Company Prefix or a --based on how many products they have, how many variations of the product there are, and how they anticipate their company will grow in the future.


What are the benefits of licensing a GS1 Company Prefix if I can buy GTINs individually now?


A GS1 Company Prefix helps sellers manage their growth and diversify their business long term and is particularly beneficial for those businesses working with a variety of retailers, not just Amazon. The prefix allows members to create additional identifiers often used in retail supply chain business processes, such as shipping codes used to identify cartons of products exchanged between trading partners. Some healthcare companies need a prefix to meet various U.S. FDA regulations, too.


What would be an alternate product identification method?


In addition to GS1 US, there are third party companies from whom businesses can obtain barcodes. These other companies operate outside of the GS1 system and typically resell barcodes that were issued to other businesses. As a result, barcodes obtained from them are not listed in GS1’s database or GS1 US Data Hub--both of which are relied upon by retailers to validate UPCs. Purchasing these third-party codes is a short term solution that, in the long run, can cause confusion with retail partners, lead to unnecessary costs associated with relabeling products and hinder company growth.


How can I learn more?


GS1 US offers a variety of educational resources to members. To learn about how to get GTINs and barcodes, please visit www.g1us.org/getabarcode. To read small business success stories and research, visit https://www.gs1us.org/small-business. For a list of certified solution providers able to assist with various tasks like barcode printing, visit https://www.gs1us.org/what-we-do/partners.


This guest post was contributed by Michelle Covey, Vice president of Partnerships, GS1 US.