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How to buy Amazon UPC Codes

If you’re looking to list a new product on Amazon and you need a UPC/EAN code, you’ve come to the right place.

How Do You Buy a UPC Code for Amazon?
  1. Step 1: Apply for a GS1 Company Prefix. The first six to nine digits of your barcode are your company prefix. …
  2. Step 2: Assign a Unique Product Number. …
  3. Step 3: Determine How Your Product will Display Barcode. …
  4. Step 4: Order Your Barcodes. …
  5. Step 5: Place Barcodes.

 

UPC codes are used by Amazon to identify products in their database, and if you are adding a new unique listing, you need a unique UPC code.  Remember that each unique item needs a unique UPC, for example:

If you’re selling T-Shirts, each unique Color will need a unique UPC. If you have 20 Black, 20 White, and 20 Green for sale, you’ll need 3 unique UPC codes, 1 for each unique Color.

What is the GS1?

There is only one legitimate producer of UPC codes that exists globally, GS1. GS1 (Global Standard 1)is a non profit organization that has set the global standard for supply chain barcoding.

There are more than 100 GS1 organizations around the world – GS1 US is the organization that serves US businesses. GS1 issues unique prefixes to brand owners so that they can create their own unique barcodes containing the prefix number given to them by GS1.

Amazon is already cross checking UPC codes assigned to different ASINs on their marketplace against the GS1 database. This means any seller without authentic GS1 UPC codes are at risk of getting their listings removed, if Amazon decides to go down that route.

From Wikipedia, “GS1 is a not-for-profit organization that develops and maintains global standards for business communication. The best known of these standards is the barcode, a symbol printed on products that can be scanned electronically. GS1 barcodes are scanned more than six billion times every day.”  In short, they allow companies to buy prefixes for their UPC codes which then allows Brands to obtain prefixes.

What are UPC Codes?

The UPC code was the original format for product barcodes. When supply 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.

There are two main types of UPC codes, UPC-E and UPC-A

UPC code
UPC code

UPC-A is essentially identical to UPC-E, however UPC-E does not include 0s. That means you will not actually see the 0’s within the barcode, only within the corresponding GTIN.

UPC barcodes are currently the primary barcode used within US and Canada. Although other countries can scan and read UPC codes, most countries outside of US and Canada use EANs.

Addressing UPC Codes and the Concerns

There are many articles circulating on Amazon’s UPC policy and the continuous changes made to it, as well as many assumptions people are making regarding them. We’d like to address them from our perspective, as a long-term UPC code reseller.

Firstly, what is a UPC? Simply put, it is a unique product code, used to catalogue products in a database. UPCs have existed for 50+ years and since the internet boom in the last 20 years, they have become even more useful and widely available. EANs are very similar and are used for the same purpose. A barcode is simply a visual representation of a UPC (or EAN) which is applied to products such that they can be scanned, counted, and inventoried.  Amazon, iTunes, eBay, and many other services require them to list products such that products can be identified and regulated, as well to prevent duplicate products from being listed.

UPCs are widely used all over the world today.  They typically consistent of 12 digits (EAN is 13 digits).  The GS1 is the company which issues UPCs by issuing company prefixes.  Depending on your needs, you can purchase 1 or thousands of UPCs from the GS1, with an upfront fee as well as a renewal fee.  However, prior to 2002, you were able to purchase prefixes from the GS1 which never expire nor have renewal fees.

The first several digits of a UPC code is what is called the company prefix, which is a unique set of number attributed to the original prefix owner. While owners may change, the name of the company prefix remains the same in the GS1 database.

Why Buy Your own Amazon UPC Code?

Amazon requires every seller to register a GTIN with each product listing available on their marketplace. With that being said, sellers can either invest in legitimized UPC codes directly from GS1, or go 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 needs. Many sellers purchase their UPC codes from third party websites due to their cheaper prices, however using resold Amazon UPC codes will cause more harm than good in the long run.

The problem with replicated UPC codes is they could belong to another company and will not link your company with your product.  

Since GS1 is the creator of the GTIN system, by definition they are the only validated resource to check barcode validity. If you are buying a reseller’s UPC code off of a 3rd party website like Ebay, that UPC code was probably originally assigned to another company.

Although Amazon has not explicitly said they will remove any listing that does not match the GS1 database, they have warned that such a policy might be enforced in the near future.

 

The Problem with UPC Codes

Several problems have recently arisen which has caused Amazon to adjust their policies.  In the past you would be able to generate a random number of a similar format as a UPC using a specific algorithm, and places like eBay, Amazon, and iTunes would accept them.  These are called “air codes”. They are constructed using the same rules as a real code, but were never issued by GS1, so they are not real GS1 UPC codes. These codes, if searched for in the GS1 database, would not show up.

Essentially this has led to many people generating fake “air codes” and selling them online.  As a result, companies like Amazon rightfully require the UPC codes to verify with the GS1 database to ensure they are using legitimate UPCs. This doesn’t mean you need to own the prefix or avoid third-party sellers, but you must buy un-used codes that verify with the GS1. All the codes that we sell at SnapUPC.com were issued by GS1.

What’s Really Happening with UPC Codes?

If you are a new seller online want to sell 1-10 products online, you have to pay $250 up front plus $50/year to the GS1.  Up to 1,000 codes is $2,500 flat and $500/year, and so on.

There are 3 factors in play that affect the modern day UPC market.
1) Because of the pricing model, people purchase UPCs in bulk and then resell them
2) People buy too many UPCs and want to sell the rest
3) People who owned prefixes prior to 2002 can sell un-used UPCs that don’t require renewal fees.

Because some UPC sellers obtained prefixes prior to 2002, they don’t have renewal fees, and therefore sell un-used UPC codes for significantly cheaper than the GS1, we are one of these sellers. This market has existed since the creation of the GS1 and still exists today.  In fact, most of the UPCs on the market (and on Amazon) are from resellers of the GS1 who originally bought from the GS1. These codes still verify with the GS1 and can be used anywhere. When you buy them from us, you own them, and you own them forever. While the ownership of codes can be bought and sold, the prefix in the GS1 database does not change (hence why you may find a different prefix “owner” in the GS1 database).

A common concern is having the company prefix name at the GS1 match the Brand on Amazon.  This is not a requirement.  For example, many businesses will buy 1 prefix for 100,000 codes, and use those 100,000 codes to sell 10+ different Brands.  Hence requiring the prefix to match the Brand wouldn’t make sense.  What Amazon wants are unused, valid GS1 codes to prevent product duplication in their catalogue.  It is a difficult problem to solve, and Amazon has made steps to change the product identification world with things like Brand Registry.

What Does Amazon think?

The current Amazon policy explicitly says:

“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.”

Again, this policy change was made due to people selling “air codes” – which Amazon doesn’t want people using.  Additionally, here are a few quotes from Amazon:

“Greetings from Amazon Seller Support,

Please be informed that answer of the inquiry you raised previously is “YES”. Sellers of  Amazon can purchase UPCs not only in GS1 but also from the other companies who legally sell UPCs. Kindly take note that all UPC’s that were purchased and provided by the seller will be verified by our system. If the UPC provided will not be accepted, then the seller must give another UPC that is being accepted by our system.”

While other people have reported responses like:

“The ONLY place you can buy legitimate UPCs is through GS1.”

This sort of response is due to people buying from third party sellers who sell codes that are not from the GS1, air codes.  If your code is from the GS1 and unused, it can be used without issue. We’ve sold many codes over the years without issue, and to this day, GS1 verified codes still work, and you don’t need to own the prefix.

“you are breaking Amazon policy if you use third party codes on Amazon”

This is not true. Many of the sellers who have been selling since before 2002 (when the GS1 started charging renewal fees) have resold millions of codes and they have been accepted for 15+ years.  And today they are still accepted. If you’re a new online seller and you need 1 UPC code, the GS1 will cost hundreds of dollars and require renewal fees. As a result, there is a resell business where businesses have un-used codes that they sell to others who only want 1 or 100.

While there may be changes in the future and how UPCs are used, Amazon does accept UPC codes as long as they verify with the GS1.  You don’t need to own the prefix! Note that the vast majority of sellers on Amazon use GS1 codes that they didn’t register from the GS1, but instead bought from resellers. And this isn’t just Amazon, this is the whole UPC business. Again, if your codes verify with the GS1, they will work fine.

To reiterate, the big concern here is that many people are often selling codes which don’t verify with the GS1 (ie. if you buy the code, and search for it in the GS1 database, no information or prefix owner information shows up).  These codes are therefore not legitimate. However, if you buy an un-used UPC and it verifies with the GS1, it is a valid code that you can use to list on Amazon.

When you are buying legitimate GS1-verified UPCs from resellers, you are buying unused UPC codes from someone else who originally registered the prefix. The company prefix will not identify you, it will identify the original owner of the UPC that registered with the GS1 (not necessarily the current owner). This is not a problem.

Our in-house Amazon expert David Cooley says, “Its important to stay up to date on Amazon’s policies around UPCs.

The recent emphasis on GS1 codes may be just the beginning for brand manufacturers or private labelers”.

Should you be worried?

If your UPC codes verify with the GS1, there is no need to worry.  100% of our codes at SnapUPC.com verify with the GS1, so if you bought from us, you’re fine. You can verify your codes here (Search “Trade Item Ownership”). The big concern is over people who purchase from sellers who weren’t selling GS1-verified codes.  Many claim they are, but when you search for them, they don’t show up in the database. What you want to look for in your search is if a company prefix owner shows up. If it does, it means the code is valid.

How Do You Buy a UPC Code for Amazon?

GS1 breaks down the process of buying your UPC code into 4 easy steps.

 

Step 1: Apply for a GS1 Company Prefix

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. Basically as a supplier, your company prefix will remain the same on the barcodes of all your different products. Each product that you offer will then be assigned a unique product code that will follow your company prefix.

Refer to the diagram below for an example:

UPC Code Company Prefix

There are numerous ways to purchase a company prefix, however it’s important that the company prefix that you purchase can be traced back to your business. Business owners often make the mistake of forging, or unknowingly purchasing their UPC code from a company other than GS1. This not only could lead to legal issues, but can also impact the legitimacy of your brands supply chain as well.

To be safe, it’s recommended to purchase your Amazon UPC codes only from GS1 directly. GS1 has an easy to use outline of how to get your Company Prefix on their website.

The initial setup fee ranges from the low end of $250 but can be as much as $10,000 depending on the how many different products you intend on selling. After the initial fee, GS1 does charge an annual renewal fee to maintain your company prefix. This cost ranges from $50 a year on the low end and around $3000 on the high end.

UPC Barcode Prices
UPC Barcode Prices

Although it might be tempting to go through a 3rd party barcode vendor, or find a cheaper UPC code on websites like Ebay, the cost of buying UPC codes from GS1 is much less than the money you can potentially lose by purchasing illegitimate UPC codes.

Step 2: Assign a Unique Product Number

Now that you have your company prefix, it’s time to assign each one of your products unique product numbers. GS1 gives each seller a set number of digits to use for product numbers depending on the number of future products the seller indicates in his or her application.

The seller can decide his or her own numbering system to apply when naming their unique product numbers. One thing to keep in mind is that each SKU of every product requires it’s own unique product number. This means every variety of each individual product needs to be represented with its own product ID.

For example, if you are selling different hats as a product selection. You may have three different color hats (red, white, and blue). Each different hat variation must have it’s own unique product number.

Red Hat: 0001
White Hat: 0002
Blue Hat: 0003

For Amazon UPC codes MUST always total 11 digits. The 12th and final digit is called the “check digit”. This number is calculated by GS1 based on the previous 11 digits of your barcode.

Step 3: Determine How Your Product will Display Barcode

If you have not packaged or designed your labels for your product, you can obtain a digital barcode file directly from GS1 to incorporate in 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 it’s packaging.

It’s important that the barcodes you use are clearly visible, and are accurate to the information on the GS1 database.

Step 4: Order Your Barcodes

Now that the hard part is out of the way, the last step is to order your barcodes. There are numerous different websites out there that specialize in printing barcode labels, GS1 US has a Solution Partner program, where you can find certified barcoding companies familiar with GS1 standards.

Step 5: Place Barcodes

As a seller it’s extremely important to place your barcodes on your product so they are both visible, and scannable. Amazon has very specific directions for sellers to follow when it comes to UPC code placement. Remember, they are most likely using robots to process your inbound FBA shipments. The easier you make the job for them to accept your shipment, the faster you are going to see your products selling online.

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