As an Amazon seller, you should already be familiar with UPC codes and what they entail. Amazon requires sellers to have universal product codes (also called UPCs or UPC Codes) to sell items on Amazon.
GS1 is the only legitimate global producer of UPC codes. GS1 is a not-for-profit organization that has set the global standard for product identification and supply chain barcoding.
GS1 US is the organization that provides UPC codes to US-based businesses, but there are more than 100 GS1 organizations around the world. GS1 issues unique prefixes to brand owners so that they can create their own unique barcodes with the prefix number given to them by GS1.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about Amazon’s UPC code policies and how to buy UPC codes for Amazon in 2023.
Jump to a section below:
- What are UPC Codes?
- Do You Need a UPC Code to Sell on Amazon?
- When Don’t I Have to Purchase a UPC Code for Amazon?
- Where to Buy UPC Codes for Amazon
- How to Buy a UPC Code for Amazon
- UPC Code Tips & Best Practices for Amazon Sellers
UPCs (often referred to as “UPC Codes”) were the original format for product barcodes. They are currently the primary barcodes used within the US and Canada. Each UPC is scannable and unique to a given product, and serves as an identifier for sales, inventory, and other tracking, identification, and verification purposes. You can think of it as the assigned fingerprint for a particular item.
There are two main types of UPCs: UPC-E and UPC-A. UPC-A is essentially identical to UPC-E; however, UPC-E does not include 0s. That means you will not actually see the 0s within the barcode, only within the corresponding GTIN.
Comparing the two types of barcodes, there are a few similarities and differences:
- Both have a symbol ID of ]EO
- They are both omnidirectional
- Both support GTIN-12
- Neither support attributes
Although other countries can scan and read UPC codes, many countries outside of the US and Canada use EANs.
When supply and demand in Europe, Asia, and Australia increased, there was a need to distinguish each seller by location. GS1 then began allocating specific prefixes for different GS1 member organizations.
While certain prefixes identify the GS1 branch where the prefix was licensed, it does not necessarily specify where that product was made. For example, there is a misconception that all barcode prefixes on American-made products will start with a zero or one.
Other Notable Product Identification Terms
- GTINs — A GTIN is a Global Trade Item Number that identifies individual products. These numbers can be encoded into barcodes such as UPCs or EANs. GTINs are assigned to a product by a user themselves prior to creating a barcode, typically using a GS1 US-issued GS1 Company Prefix and a unique product number, plus a check digit that helps to ensure the GTIN is created correctly. It’s important to assign each product variation a unique GTIN.
- EANs — EAN or European Article Numbers (also called International Article Numbers or IANs) are GS1-standard barcodes that include company prefixes at the beginning of the numeric GTIN. Two primary forms of EANs are popular among Amazon sellers—EAN-13 and EAN-8—which encode a GTIN-13 and GTIN-8, respectively. Like UPC codes, EANs don’t necessarily identify the country where the product was made. The type of EAN you’ll use depends on various factors, such as product category and product distribution channel.
A GTIN, along with a UPC code, can be used anywhere in the world. GS1 is the only official global provider of GS1 GTINs and EAN and UPC barcodes.
UPC codes are required for every product you’ll be selling on Amazon. This number will be entered in the Product ID field, and you will not be able to move forward with listing your item without a UPC. Please note that an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) is not a replacement for a UPC. An ASIN will be assigned to your newly listed product after it has been entered, which requires first providing a UPC.
Do I Need to Print UPCs on Amazon Products?
It depends. While UPC codes are required for products sold on Amazon, if the product you’re selling already has a visible, scannable UPC in an approved location, you will not need to add another UPC. Amazon has specific requirements for sellers when it comes to UPC and/or FNSKU code placement. The easier you make it for FBA warehouses to accept, process, and track your inventory, the better set up for success you’ll be.
Tips for barcode placement include:
- Be sure to use clearly printed and accurately sized UPCs that perfectly match the information in GS1’s database
- Ensure your UPC is in a highly visible location and easily scannable. This includes making sure there is some white space around the barcode
- Be mindful not to add your barcodes near the edge of a package where they can fold over, unravel, stick to another item, or otherwise become damaged or accidentally removed
Learn more here about proper Amazon UPC placement.
UPC codes help Amazon, and shoppers, understand exactly which item you are selling. This is especially important in a crowded marketplace where there may be hundreds of items that look similar, but are indeed different.
- If you are reselling products that already have UPC codes assigned to them—these will typically be on the back of the item itself, or its packaging—you will not need to purchase a new UPC code. You can choose the UPC option, and add this existing number to the product ID field when you list your item for sale
- If the exact item you’re selling is already available for sale on Amazon, you won’t be required to create a new page to support your item. You can choose the ASIN option from the product ID dropdown, and input the ASIN of the existing, active Amazon listing
- If the items you’re offering for sale aren’t in your physical possession (ie. dropshipping), you can contact your supplier or the manufacturer to obtain the correct UPC code. In some instances, you may also be able to find the UPC code yourself by simply locating the product in-store or online, though we encourage you to be completely certain the item you’re selling is an exact match. If you’re at all unsure, verify with your supplier or the manufacturer before using the code
Amazon requires every seller to register a GTIN with each product listing available on their marketplace. The best and only valid option to buy these codes is with GS1.
Several years ago, Amazon sellers would often buy UPCs from non-GS1 sources and they would be accepted in Amazon listings. In recent years, as marketplaces became more focused on product authenticity, Amazon began more strictly requiring UPCs specifically sourced from a GS1 organization. If product listings are found not to contain a GTIN that is searchable in the GS1 Registry, sellers run the risk of list suppression, not to mention potential added costs associated with relabeling products with an authentic GS1 barcode.
Today, if you don’t purchase your UPC code from GS1 and purchase a cheap replicated UPC code that doesn’t match the information found in the GS1 database, Amazon can remove your listing and potentially suspend your seller account.
“We verify the authenticity of product UPCs by checking the GS1 database. UPCs that do not match the information provided by GS1 will be considered invalid. We recommend obtaining your UPCs directly from GS1 (and not from other third parties selling UPC licenses) to ensure the appropriate information is reflected in the GS1 database.”
As our in-house Amazon expert David Cooley advises, “It’s important to stay up to date on Amazon’s policies around UPCs.”
The bottom line: Since GS1 is the creator of the GTIN system, they are the only legitimate resource to check barcode validity.
If you are buying a reseller’s UPC code from a third-party website, that UPC was probably originally assigned to another company. If those replicated UPCs belong to another company, Amazon won’t associate your company with your products.
The first step is estimating how many GS1 barcodes you will need. From there, you’ll follow a few steps and be well on your way to selling your products on Amazon. Let’s unpack those steps…
1. Determine which code you need
Amazon sellers can decide between purchasing a single GTIN or getting a GS1 company prefix.
GS1 US offers two options. For small companies that only sell a few products, there is a single Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) option. This means each UPC or barcode is only $30 with no annual renewal fee. However, for those businesses that see their product lines growing over the next few years, the GS1 Company Prefix option might be best.
The first six to nine digits of your barcode are your company prefix. The company prefix uniquely identifies the product’s manufacturer. As a supplier, your company prefix will remain the same on each barcode for all of your different products. Each product that you offer will then be assigned a unique product code that follows your company prefix.
Again, make sure that your single GTIN or company prefix can be traced back to your business by buying your prefix and Amazon UPC codes directly from GS1.
Figure out how many barcodes you’ll need. How many unique products do you have? Each combination of size and color variation needs its own barcode. This means that if you offer an item in 3 different sizes, and each size is available in 3 different colors, you would need 9 barcodes—one for each size and color combination. You can use GS1’s barcode estimator to get a more accurate picture.
Next, figure out which pricing plan makes the most sense for you. GS1 offers a variety of pricing tiers based on how many different barcodes you plan to purchase:
Once you’re ready to buy, visit GS1’s official US store and add the types of GTNs you want to your cart, add your payment info, and checkout.
2. Assign UPCs to products
The next step is to assign your products unique product numbers, aka GTINs. A subscription to GS1 US Data Hub is free for every GS1 member. This is a valuable tool that allows you to assign your own GTINs, associate product attributes and details to each product entry, and download UPC barcodes.
Your GTIN should be a combination of your company prefix, a unique product number that you assign, and a “check digit” that helps make sure that your GTIN is created correctly.
On Amazon, UPC codes must always total 12 digits (GTIN-12): 11 digits, plus that “check digit.” Your “check digit” is calculated by GS1 based on the previous 11 digits of your barcode.
3. Determine your barcode type
The barcode type you need depends on where your product will be sold or scanned. Products scanned at a brick-and-mortar point-of-sale need different barcodes than products scanned in a distribution center or a warehouse.
- If you sell in both brick-and-mortar stores and online, you should use the same GTIN online and in physical stores
- If you use Amazon FBA to fulfill your Amazon orders, Amazon typically requires that you place FNSKU codes on your items. FBA uses FNSKU barcodes to track inventory throughout the order fulfillment process. If a particular item is exclusively available from you, Amazon may be able to use the UPC code alone to identify you as the seller, but we recommend always using the FNSKU as well to ensure there are no current or future issues
Because we’re talking about barcodes for Amazon, we’ll skip to the online and ecommerce retail store requirements.
4. Place barcode on your product
Last, but definitely not least: put your barcode on your product!
If you haven’t packaged or designed your labels for your product, you can obtain a digital barcode file directly from GS1 to incorporate it into the packaging and labeling of your product.
Almost all manufacturers will be comfortable with the idea of working with UPC codes and understand how to incorporate them from a digital file. GS1 has useful guidance on how to place barcodes on your packaging. If you have already packaged and labeled your products, you can order adhesive barcode labels to stick onto your product or packaging. GS1 US Solution Partners also offer software and solutions to help you with barcode labeling and logistics.
“A barcode is often a symbol of authenticity for brands, retailers, and consumers. It means that you are ready to participate in the global supply chain and can enable your product to be tracked, traced, and discovered. It’s important to become knowledgeable about these key building blocks that will help your products get moved from point A to point B.”
— Megan Baumer, Business Development Director, GS1 US
Remember, it’s important to place your barcode in a place that is visible and scannable. Avoid placing your barcode on the edge of the package, and make sure there’s enough white space around the barcode so it’s easily scannable. Make sure that the barcodes you use are printed clearly, sized correctly, and match the information on the GS1 database.
Now that we’ve laid the foundation, let’s explore a few UPC best practices, including remedying bad UPCs and using FNSKUs.
UPCs for Private Label Sellers
If you have created your own new product, or are planning to private label products you have purchased or had manufactured on your behalf, you will need to assign unique UPC codes to each variation of these items. In a sense, they don’t exist yet in a way that retailers and shoppers can identify them with a concrete numerical ‘check,’ and giving them a UPC code is a bit like assigning them the item version of a Social Security Number. This number becomes a source of truth that retailers and shoppers can use to search for and/or identify an item
Remedy bad UPCs
If you’ve purchased cheap codes from a reseller and discovered they’re inauthentic or inaccurate, you’ll want to delete the listing for which you used the bad code. Next, once you’ve acquired a GS1-issued UPC, create a new product listing with the correct information.
An FNSKU—or Fulfillment Network Stock Keeping Unit—is an Amazon fuAlfillment-specific number. If you are leveraging FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) rather than shipping out products to customers yourself, you will need to affix an FNSKU barcode to all items you send to an Amazon fulfillment center. If you are not using FBA, an FNSKU is not required.
When your shipment is received at the Amazon fulfillment center, a team member will scan the FNSKU barcodes to determine which Amazon seller sent the shipped products. Amazon requires that this number be added to every product they’re fulfilling, and that it is easily scannable to streamline the process. The FNSKU is so important because it lets Amazon know which seller to credit when a sale takes place. It also allows Amazon to trace each item back to the Seller of record if there is ever a quality issue, and helps prevent co-mingling of stock.
If your item doesn’t include packaging—such as a single t-shirt—the FNSKU can be added to any tags on the item, including the size tag itself.
Where do I get an FNSKU?
FNSKU numbers will be automatically generated for your products when you opt to print your shipping labels in Seller Central; a different FNSKU will be issued for every product variation.
At this stage, you will select who is affixing the labels from the dropdown (you, or Amazon). FNSKU labels can be added to items individually—or, if you haven’t yet had your packaging created—you can include them right in your packaging design. If you are unable to add the FNSKU labels yourself, Amazon can affix the labels on sellers’ behalf for a fee. There is no cost associated with the FNSKU numbers themselves.
Looking for an agency to assist you with your Amazon selling endeavors? Check out our Amazon agency buying guide to learn how to choose the right agency for you – and why Tinuiti might be that agency.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2016 and has been regularly updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.