What is UPC? Universal Product Codes and Why You Need Them!

Published on: Wed Sep 01 2021

Written by Tony Do

UPCs or Universal Product Codes are unique 12 digit codes assigned to every product in the world. Find out how to use UPCs for your e-commerce or Amazon business.

UPCs or “Universal Product Codes” are one of the foundational product identifiers that the entire business world relies on. Every item or product in the world is assigned a global identifier, a series of numbers and letters that keep track of a product and any of its transactions. UPCs, like other product identifiers, enable any seller, merchant, or business to purchase, sell, or keep track of their products. For new companies and Amazon sellers, it is vital to secure UPCs for your products before you are allowed to distribute and sell anything on Amazon.

By learning about UPCs, you’ll get a better idea about how they play into your Amazon strategy, and how you can use UPCs to sustain, grow, and accelerate your business.

What are UPCs?

The easiest way to break down UPCs is by looking at a simple product label. Labels consist of two different parts: the barcode and the unique digit number. Barcodes are a series of lines and black bars in a unique sequence, often read by barcode scanners. Along with a barcode, each product contains a unique 12 digit numerical code called a GTIN, or “Global Trade Identification Number.” Each label contains a UPC (barcode) along with a 12 digit GTIN below. Essentially, the UPC is the same as the GTIN, except the UPC is displayed through the barcode.

What are GTINs?

As mentioned, GTINs, or Global Trade Identification Numbers, are part of labels and are the numeral codes assigned to products. Every product in the world has a different GTIN depending on the brand owner or manufacturer and the product model. GTINs come in varying lengths, but the most common are GTIN-12, or 12 digit numbers.

GTIN-12 can be broken down into 3 parts. The first 6 digits, the next 5 digits, and the 12th and last digit.

The first 6 digits are known as GS1 or “Uniform Code Council”. GS1 are also called “company prefixes” because they represent a specific company. Every company has a different set of numbers for different companies. For example, Nike’s products may have a different GS1 code than Adidas.

The next 5 digits are known as the “product number”. As the name implies, each product model and type has a unique product number. For our example, Nike sells two models of shoes. Both shoes will have the same GS1 (since they are both under Nike), but each model will have a different product number.

The final and 12th digit is known as the “check digit” which is a unique number assigned when calculating the 11 digits together.

GTINs and UPCs work together to keep track of every product and its respective transactions. By using UPCs and GTINs, businesses and consumers can quickly and efficiently scan products, check product details such as pricing, and keep track of inventory and sales transactions.

Should I Use UPCs or ASINs?

If you sell on Amazon, you might be wondering: UPCs? What about ASINs? How do they relate to UPCs?

ASINs are known as “Amazon Standard Identification Numbers,” and like UPCs, they are used to keep track and monitor specific products stored, sold, and shipped on Amazon. Unlike the 12 digits found in UPCs, ASINs are only 10 digit product identifiers. Every product on Amazon is given a unique whenever they are registered in Amazon’s system. ASINs should be familiar to anyone who shops or sells on Amazon, as they are the most common product identifier on the entire marketplace.

Before you can buy or sell a product using an ASIN, the product needs to be registered on Amazon using a UPC. For most categories, you will be required to provide the UPC when creating a new listing for your product. As a result, you need the UPCs to sell anything on Amazon.

Don’t stress out if you don’t know your UPCs. If you have your products on hand, your products should have a barcode on the packaging which includes your UPC barcode and GTIN. In case your products do not have a label, contact your supplier or manufacturer immediately. Your product provider should be able to provide your product’s information including their UPC.

*Note: In case you are selling books, may receive an ISBN (international standard book number) instead of a traditional GTIN. If you happen to be outside the U.S., you may receive an EAN or “European Article Number” instead of the traditional UPC and GTIN.

How many UPCs Do I Need?

For Amazon sellers and businesses, you will need a different UPC for each product you plan on selling.

Remember, UPCs are needed to keep track of sales, so each variant of products will need to have its own unique UPC and GTIN. For example, if you were selling a shirt on Amazon in multiple sizes (Small/Medium/Large/X-Large), each size will require a different UPC and GTIN. For each of these UPCs, you will then need to create a new listing for each of these variants. If you sold the shirt in 4 different sizes, you should have 4 different UPCs. After adding these products to Amazon, you should receive 4 different ASINs.

Simply put, you need a unique UPC for every product you sell.

Strengthen Your Strategy with UPCs

UPCs are a foundational part of your business. Without the UPC, you won’t be able to sell any products on Amazon. But if you use them correctly, you can maximize your efficiency by scanning and tracking any product you want to sell online.

Don’t forget that UPCs are not the final product! Like all product identifiers, UPCs and GTINs are just the first steps. You need to convert your products to ASINs! You can use any product identifier like EANs and ISBNs to add new products to Amazon and start selling today.

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