As an Amazon seller, you should already be familiar with UPC codes and what they entail. Amazon requires sellers to have unique product codes (also called UPC codes) to list their products.
There is only one legitimate global producer of UPC codes: GS1. GS1 (Global Standard 1) is a non-profit organization that has set the global standard for 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 2021.
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A GTIN is a Global Trade Item Number that identifies individual products – not to be confused with an actual product barcode. GTINs are a combination of GS1 US-issued company prefix numbers and a unique product number, plus a check digit that helps to ensure the GTIN is created correctly.
GTINs can be encoded into different types of barcodes:
- UPCs (Unique Product Codes)
- EANs (European Article Numbers)
It’s important to assign each product a unique GTIN, and you must ensure that every variation of an item is assigned a globally unique number.
Keep in mind, in most Amazon categories, sellers are required to use a separate UPC for multi-pack products, and they must also indicate the ” item package quantity ” when listing multi-packs. Product bundles (aka Amazon product bundling) are composed of different products (not multiples of the same product) and each bundle requires its own unique UPC (or EAN). For more info, check out Amazon’s Product Bundling Policy and How Products are Defined.
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.
The UPC code was the original format for product barcodes. There are two main types of UPC codes: 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.
UPC barcodes are currently the primary barcodes used within the US and Canada. Although other countries can scan and read UPC codes, most 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.
EAN or European Article Numbers (also called International Article Numbers or IANs) are GS1-issued 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.
Also similar to UPCs, the type of EAN you use depends on various factors, such as product category and product distribution channel.
Amazon requires every seller to register a GTIN with each product listing available on their marketplace. Amazon sellers can either buy legitimized UPC codes directly from GS1 or purchase through a reseller.
There are various UPC and EAN resellers out there who will try to sell replicated UPC codes to satisfy Amazon’s UPC code requirements. Many sellers purchase their UPC codes from third-party websites due to their cheaper prices — but using resold Amazon UPC codes can cause more harm than good in the long run.
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 code was probably originally assigned to another company. If those replicated UPC codes belong to another company, Amazon won’t associate your company with your products.
GS1 lays out 4 steps to buying your UPC code for Amazon.
Step 1: Determine if you should buy a single GTIN or apply for 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 Company Prefix option might be best.
The first six to nine digits of your barcode are your company prefix. The company prefix is a unique identifier of 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. To purchase your UPC codes from GS1, you need to fill out an application on their website.
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. As illustrated in the graphic below, 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:
Step 2: Identify each product with a GTIN
The next step is to assign your products unique product numbers, aka GTINs.
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.
Step 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; we cover these in greater detail below. 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.
Step 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. If you have already packaged and labeled your products, you can order adhesive barcode labels to stick onto your product or packaging.
As an Amazon seller, 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 scannable. Make sure that the barcodes you use are printed clearly, sized correctly, and match the information on the GS1 database.
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.
Can Amazon’s Brand Registry be Used as an Alternative to UPCs?
Previously, if you enrolled your brand in Amazon’s Brand Registry, Amazon would provide you with a GCID (Global Catalog Identifier) that you could use as the unique identifier in your listing, in place of a UPC.
But, as of April 17, 2018, GCIDs can no longer be used in place of a UPC, EAN, JAN, or ISBN to create ASINs (Amazon Standard Identification Numbers). If your brand has been approved for the Brand Registry program and you don’t have UPCs, EANs, JANs (Japan Article Numbers – Japanese equivalent of EANs), or ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers – only applies to books) for your products, apply for GTIN exemption.
An FNSKU—or Fulfillment Network Stock Keeping Unit—is an Amazon fulfillment-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 a team member at the Amazon fulfillment center receives your shipment, they 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.
“Although it does add another process to shipment preparation, we do recommend that all Sellers apply the Amazon FNSKU labels to their cartons. This extra effort not only allows for sales tracking, but it serves as a level of protection against counterfeits. Once received into the Amazon network, a Seller’s product is traceable through every step of the ecommerce process.”
— Nancy Hebert, Senior Specialist, Marketplace Operations at Tinuiti
If the items you’re selling are in a box or other packaging, you can affix the FNSKU in an easily-identifiable location on the outside of the package. 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.
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 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
- 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 (Amazon Standard Identification Number) 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
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 updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.