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Product codes and IDs are essential for inventory management. From warehouses to retail checkouts, those numbers and their machine-readable barcodes streamline processes and save time.

Universal Product Code (UPC) is a product identifier used all over the world for all sorts of retail products—whether they are sold on a brick-and-mortar store or an e-commerce marketplace.

Amazon has also made UPC and other GTIN codes mandatory for almost every product you want to list on Amazon (with few exceptions). If you haven't got the hang of this side of the Amazon business, this post will serve as a crash course. 

Here, you will find out what UPC codes are, why you need them, how to purchase them, and how they are different from other product identifiers on Amazon.

What Is a UPC Code?

UPC is a type of Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN) developed and assigned by GS1 (Global Standards 1). GS1 is a not-for-profit organization responsible for developing and implementing global standards for business communication.

UPC is essentially a combination of 12 digits along with its machine-readable barcode symbol (a unique pattern of black bars). UPC codes in the form of labels are affixed on product packaging.

These numerical strings help with the quick scanning of an item for its brand, color, size, and other attributes at retail checkouts and warehouses. UPC codes are also known as GTIN-12 because they are GTINs with 12 digits. There are other GTINs with a different number of digits as well e.g. GTIN-8, GTIN-13, and GTIN-14.

Breakdown of a UPC

This is a standard UPC code or GTIN-12. You can see a string of 12 digits and its encoded machine-readable barcode. So, how do those digits come together and make UPC codes? Let’s find out.

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  • The string of digits underlined in green is called a company prefix. It is a 6-digit manufacturer identification number that GS1 assigns to the party applying for UPC codes. This number is used to identify the manufacturer/brand of the given product.
  • The string of five digits underlined in red is called item number or item reference. The manufacturer/brand is responsible for assigning that 5-digit code to individual products based on their features. You can go with either manual or auto-assigning of those numbers. This reference number ensures a product can be uniquely identified for its attributes. For instance, a shoe with the same design but different sizes and colors will have different item references.
  • A single-digit underlined in blue in the end is called the check digit. This digit is obtained by adding, multiplying, and dividing the preceding digits of the UPC. The check digit essentially authenticates a particular UPC code (the combination of a specific manufacturer identification number and item reference). The barcode scanners won’t be able to scan and retrieve the item’s information if the check digit is incorrect.

Where to Buy UPC Codes for Amazon?

As mentioned earlier, GS1 develops and provides all sorts of GTINs, including Amazon UPC codes. Therefore, you should purchase them directly from GS1’s website rather than any third-party dealer. In many cases, Amazon is not able to verify the budget UPCs sold by third parties. Therefore, going to other sources to purchase UPC codes at a discounted price may not pan out really well. 

How and Where to Add UPC to Listing?

After you get your UPC, you’re ready to create product listings on Amazon. You will need to enter the 12-digit string on the Product ID section on the listing creation page.

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You need to pick UPC from the drop-down menu if you have ordered UPC/GTIN-12 from GS1.

Why Do You Need UPC to Sell on Amazon?

As a seller on Amazon, you can either sell products under your own private label/brand or list items by other manufacturers/brands through wholesaling or retail arbitrage. You will need UPC in both cases. Let's see why UPCs have become an obligation to sell on Amazon.

UPC Codes for Private Label Items

If you have launched your own brand on an Amazon marketplace, your products must have some sort of standardized global recognition. UPC/GTINs provide that acknowledgment to your product. When you list your product on Amazon and insert its UPC as its product ID, you make it easy for Amazon to verify your product through the GS1’s database. This verification also ensures that your private label products remain safe from counterfeits and duplicates.

Note: As a private-label product seller, you’re not always obliged to get UPCs for your inventory (more on that later).

UPC Codes for Wholesale/Retail Arbitrage Products

UPCs play an integral role in how Amazon’s fulfillment machinery works. Amazon fulfills orders from the seller closer to customers where multiple sellers sell the same product of the same brand. It works like that:

  • A customer places an order from seller A
  • Amazon fulfills the order from seller B’s inventory (due to its proximity)
  • Amazon reimburses seller B from seller A’s inventory

Here, UPC codes enable Amazon to carry out all this reimbursement and compensation of sellers’ inventory for the exact product versions and variants.

Homework before Buying UPC Codes

As a third-party Amazon seller, you need to ensure that the manufacturer has brought and put UPCs on the inventory. However, as a private label seller, you need to do that on your own.  It means you have to buy the UPC codes yourself. Therefore, there is some groundwork that you need to take care of before buying an Amazon UPC code.

Determine How Many UPCs Are Required and Decide on the Plan

First of all, you need to know how many UPCs you will need for your entire catalog. This demo by GS1 is a great way to calculate how many UPC codes you will need. You can also use the GS1 barcode estimator to determine the number of barcodes you’ve to purchase.

Source: GS1

You can see that even if you sell only one item (shirt) with different variations, you will need dozens of UPC barcodes. However, if you sell a single product without any variants, you won’t need more than one barcode.

Once you know the number of barcodes you need, look at the options available at GS1. If your Amazon business is based on a single or couple of products with no varying features, you can stick to GS1 US GTIN. In this plan, GSI provides you with individual barcodes at a one-time fee.

On the other hand, if your listings entail different products with many variations, you should go with GS1 Company Prefix. In this plan, GS1 assigns you a company prefix and asks the user (you) to create and provide item numbers/reference numbers for products and their variations. GS1 then provides you with the bulk of UPCs along with barcodes for all the products and their variants.

How to Purchase UPC Codes for Amazon— A Step-by-Step Process

The above section has covered all the prerequisites that you need to know about UPC shopping. Now, let's glance through each step of how to get them.

Choose the GTIN or Prefix Option

On the main page of GS1, scroll down and choose the option you want to go with. If you need a barcode for a single item and don’t have any plan to expand your product line later, click on Get a GTIN. But if there are several products with multiple variants, go with the Get a Prefix option.

Choose How Many Barcodes You Need

After clicking on Get a Prefix, you will end up on a page where you can select the range of barcodes you will need in bulk.

* This is GS1 US price planning and prices are given in USD

Select the range in which you need the barcodes and add them to the cart.

Develop Item Numbers/Reference Numbers to Complete GTIN/UPC

After placing your order, you’ll get a confirmation email from GS1. After that, you can add product IDs (reference numbers) with the newly assigned company prefix to complete the GTIN-12 string. You can use your existing product SKUs as reference numbers in completing the GTIN-12.

Choose the Type of Barcode

Once you finalize your GTIN (the numeric codes), you have to pick the type of barcode you want. As an Amazon seller, you have to choose a simple linear 1D barcode. It is enough to ensure that your products can be scanned at warehouses and retail POS.

You can also go with 2D barcode types that include DotCode, QR code, and Data Matrix. With these barcodes, you can encode extended information into the barcode e.g. an URL, expiry dates, etc.

Put the Barcode on the Product

You will get the digital barcode files from the GS1. You can print them as labels for the corresponding products. Or, you can just add the barcode in your packaging design to get around printing and affixing individual labels.  

UPC, ASIN, FNSKU, GTIN, EAN Codes—What’s the Difference between All of Them

You may have heard about all those acronyms mentioned as product identifiers on Amazon. What do they entail, and how are they different? Here, we'll try to break it down for you.

GTIN: Global Trade Item Numbers are globally standardized product identifiers issued by GS1. They have multiple types that include EAN, UPC, and ISBN, etc.

UPC: Universal Product Code is a type of GTIN, also known as GTIN-12. It includes a 12-digit numeric code along with its readable barcode form.

EAN: European Article Number is also a GTIN with 13 digits (also known as GTIN-13). It is primarily used in countries outside of North America (the US and Canada). Modern barcodes can read both UPC and EAN codes in the same manner.

ASIN: Amazon issues Amazon Standard Identification Number. It is a 10-digit alphanumeric string assigned as a unique product code to every product in Amazon's catalog for easy identification for its operational teams, buyers, as well as sellers.

GCID: Global Catalog Identifier is an ID that Amazon assigns to sellers who apply for Brand Registry. You can use this 16-digit code in place of UPC in the Product ID section while creating a listing for products approved under your brand registry.

FNSKU: Fulfillment Network Stock Keeping Unit is an alphanumeric code and barcode combination that Amazon generates for all the FBA products. Amazon workers essentially use these barcodes to process the inventory through the fulfillment funnel.

Mistakes to Avoid While Buying Amazon UPC Codes

Look out for these mistakes when you go on to shop UPC codes for Amazon.

Buy from Websites Offering Cheap Rates

Don’t search for “cheap UPC codes" on Google and click on the top links unless the website is not of GS1. We have already discussed that the only reliable platform to get UPCs is GS1— the organization responsible for developing them and maintaining their record. Going after cheap rates to buy Amazon UPC codes can cost you more than what you’re aiming to save in the long run. Therefore, always buy UPC codes directly from GS1.

Buy a Single Code

If you have established a brand registry and want to sell multiple products with quite a few variations and a possibility of expansion, you should not apply for individual barcodes. Instead, you can get a company prefix for bulk buying. It will save you money and make the process of getting UPCs convenient.

Get a Wrong GTIN

If you’re selling outside of the US and Canada, you may not want to get UPC (GTIN-12). Instead, you will need another GTIN called EAN (also known as GTIN-13).

Do I Always Require a UPC to Sell on Amazon?

Before we wrap up this article, it is very crucial to answer this vital question. UPCs are essential and required for selling the majority of products. However, they are not an ultimate requirement. In other words, you can sell on Amazon without UPC codes as well.

These are some conditions where you can sell products without getting UPCs for them.

  • Private-label and handmade products
  • Automotive and mobile accessories that come from manufacturers without GTIN
  • Product bundles containing more than one similar item

To sell without UPCs, you need to apply for GTIN exemption with Amazon as you create the listing of products falling in any of the three categories mentioned above.

However, it is a good practice to get a GTIN (whether it’s UPC or EAN) for your private-label products. It will give your product a globally unique identifier that will help you sell your products on other platforms as well. 

Final Words

We hope that this article helps you in buying UPCs for your products without a hassle. There are two key takeaways that you need to remember:

  • Always buy UPC or any GTIN barcode from the official website of GS1. 
  • Get a company prefix and buy in bulk if your product catalog consists of multiple items and different variants.

Still confused about different product identifiers on Amazon and need expert assistance?

Our weekly live training may help you untangle the knots around product identifiers. You can join this live training for FREE. And if you can’t attend it in real-time, you can always attend its recorded version. On top of it all, you also get to use all of ZonGuru’s seller tools for free for an entire week.

And no, you don’t have to fulfill any fine-print terms and conditions to join this training. It’s unconditionally free for everyone.


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