The year was 2017. Bobby McGee (substitute name) prepared to launch his new product line of dildos. He created his first Amazon listing. “Product ID? I need a UPC code?”
He found 50 UPC codes on eBay for $5. What a steal! So he bought them and listed his dildos on Amazon.
What he did not know is that, long ago, those codes were already assigned to a specific product type and company. He was using recycled barcodes.
His product began to sell not once a day but over 100 times a day. He had never seen money like this in his life. And then one day, his sales strangely stopped.
He looked at his listing and noticed Amazon had moved his dildos to automotive parts. People hunting for automotive parts were not too jazzed about his dildos. And shoppers would not be hunting for dildos in the automotive category. His listing was basically invisible.
What happened? Amazon’s system re-assigned the listing to the product category the UPC code was created for.
I’m going to show you how to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.
Today I will show you the four most important facts you must know about barcodes for your Amazon business:
1. What barcodes are and why we need them
2. Where barcodes come from
3. What codes you need for your Amazon business
4. How you can get a barcode for your product
Part I: What Are Barcodes & Why Do We Need Them?
A barcode is a code that identifies the product you are selling and can be easily read by a machine.
Why does my product need a barcode?
Ultimately, to identify your product. The barcode uniquely identifies your product and also registers your product to your company name. Like an IP address to a computer, an EIN to an LLC or a social security number to a human, every product gets its own number, aka, product id, aka, barcode.
Most major online platforms like Amazon, eBay, walmart.com or jet.com require a barcode.
Your product also needs a barcode if you sell at a big box store.
When you first create a new listing on Amazon, you will see a page similar to this. All these boxes are “product identifiers.” They identify the product. The product identifier we are going to focus on today is the “Product ID.” That’s where you type in your UPC code, EAN code, or a similar code.
Why is this so important? Look at what Amazon says:
Yeah, getting the right barcode is a huge deal.
What kinds of Amazon sellers need a barcode?
All Amazon sellers need a product code.
If you are a private label seller, building your own products, you need to purchase a code.
If you are an arbitrage seller, reselling branded products, the code is already on the Amazon listing.
If you are a wholesale distributor, you need the product code from the wholesaler.
There are 41 primary barcodes used around the world today, and I won't murder your eyes by sharing all of them. Today I'm just going to show you the barcodes you need for your Amazon business.
How do barcodes work?
The “bars” were created for pre-internet product purchases. Most call it a “barcode” because before the internet existed, barcodes had a set of usually 12-13 numbers underneath vertical bars.
The first digit tells you what kind of barcode this is. For example, if it’s a “0” then that means it’s a normal UPC code.
If it’s a 2 it means it’s a “weight item” like meat. If it’s a 5 or 9 it’s a coupon.
The next 5 digits (digits 2-6) tell you what brand the product belongs to. It’s called your “manufacturer number” or “brand number.”
When you create your own code, this group of digits is your unique number, assigned to your company’s brand name.
When you combine the first digit with this second group, it’s called your “pre-fix.” These first 6 digits act like a brand identifier for your company.
The third set of digits (digits 7-11) identify your product.
It’s called your “item number.” These are also called “unique identifiers.” Example: The green bone handle coffee mug. If digits 2-6 identify your company brand then digits 7-11 identify your product type.
The last number validates the codes’ correctness.
How? If you are a math nerd you are going to love this...
Add the digits in the odd-numbered positions (the 1st, 3rd, 5th digits etc.) (Note: do not include the check digit number)
0 + 6 + 0 + 2 + 1 + 5 = 14
Multiply the sum by 3: 14 x 3 = 42
Add the digits in the even-numbered positions: 3 + 0 + 0 + 9 + 4 = 16
Add the two numbers: 42 + 16 = 58
What single-digit number must you add to make the total a multiple of 10?
58 + 2 = 60, a multiple of 10
So the check digit is 2
(A multiple means that 10 can be divided evenly into that number.)
Part II: Where do barcodes come from?
Everything will make much better sense if you first understand where barcodes come from.
The president of a grocery store chain in Philadelphia got frustrated with how long it took the employee to process the order of products at checkout.
Every single product had to be hand written into a ledger before the customer could pay.
There had to be a way to quickly scan every product into their system.
An electrical engineer named Bernard Silver convinced the store president that he could create a solution.
Teaming up with mechanical engineer, Joseph Norman Woodland, they set out to find a solution.
1949: Bernard Silver and Joseph Norman Woodland created the first barcode prototype in 1949.
1952: The patent for their barcode was granted by the United States Patent Trademark Office.
The technology failed to succeed in any commercial application for 25 years…until IBM paid Woodland to develop it further into the UPC code system we know today.
On June 26, 1974, an Ohio supermarket employee scanned the first product in history: a 10-pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum.
Part III: What codes do you need for your Amazon business?
There are two main kinds of codes:
- Universal product codes
- Codes unique to a specific organization
Universal product codes include: GTIN, UPC, EAN, IAN, ISBN, pzn, and more.
Amazon product codes include: ASIN, FNSKU, and GCID.
To understand which codes you need, you first need to understand the various kinds of codes.
Which one do you pick?
When you add a new product on Amazon, you are going to see a whole list of code options. I’ll explain each one to you, and then it will be easy to know which code is best for you based on your location and the status of your Amazon account.
What are the main universal product codes?
GTIN: Global Trade Item Number
GTIN is a generic term for all major barcode types. It is recognized almost anywhere in the world.
A UPC code is a type of GTIN. An EAN code is another type of GTIN.
The UPC code you see below is also classified as a GTIN.
When you get your first EAN or UPC, you can also call it a GTIN.
UPC: Universal Product Code
A lot of people incorrectly call any barcode a UPC.
A UPC is unique for selling in the United States and Canada only.
The most common UPC code is the “UPC-12” also called “UPC-A.” It has 12 digits. For products with less printing space, some brands use a shorter version called a “UPC E” which only uses 8 digits.
EAN: European Article Number.
EAN is used for all other countries.
The most common EAN code is “EAN-13” which uses 13 digits.
EAN-8 is an 8 digit version of the EAN used for small packages.
The EAN digits mean the same thing as a UPC code except the first two digits identify the product owner’s country. For example, the first 2 digits of this barcode, 40, tell us that the owner of the product is located in Germany.
For clarity: a UPC (for the US and Canada) and an EAN (for all other countries) are two kinds of GTINs.
When you create your Amazon listing, if you purchased a UPC code you can select GTIN or UPC from the dropdown.
If you purchased an EAN code, you can select GTIN or EAN.
You will need universal product barcodes in order to sell your product on Amazon.
How many universal barcodes do you need for your product?
Just one unique code per product variation.
For example, if you sell a pink square candle, you need 1 code for that variation of candle. If you purchase 1200 of these pink candles from the supplier, you need only that one code for all 1200 candles. If you sell a yellow square candle in addition to the pink candle, now you need a second barcode for the yellow variation.
Let’s say you sell one style of fedoras. But also, the hat comes in four different colors and four different sizes. You need 16 unique barcodes, one per variation.
What if the variations on my listing are quantity variations?
Every unit you sell, whether it’s a bundle of products in a set or a multi-pack, needs its own barcode.
For example, when an Amazon shopper navigates to your toothpicks listing, let’s say they see a 50-pack, a 500-pack, and a 5,000-pack. Since each pack is a variation of the parent product, each one needs its own code. So in this case, you would need 3 barcodes.
What if Amazon or the seller platform won’t accept your code?
If you already have a 14 digit EAN but the seller platform requires 12 or 13 digits, then just remove the first number or two from the barcode.
If the seller platform requires 13 digits and your barcode is UPC with 12 digits, you can always add a 0 to the front of your code.
What about Amazon-specific codes?
ASIN: Amazon Standard Identification Number
This number is auto-assigned to your listing on Amazon. You cannot change or edit it. It is the easiest way to identify any listing on Amazon. You can even search a product by typing in the ASIN on the search bar.
For books, the ASIN is the same as the ISBN number.
It’s also in the URL of your Amazon listing, right after dp and before ?ref. It always begins with B0.
GCID: Global Catalogue Identifier
When you enroll your products in Amazon’s brand registry, you may use a GTIN or a GCID code. Amazon provides the GCID code.
You fill out unique key attributes for each SKU you provide, and Amazon will assign each product with a GCID.
Note: you have to use Amazon’s IP accelerator to start the trademark process or complete the trademarking process on your own if you want to be brand registered.
Here’s how it works…
1. Select GCID in the drop down menu.
2. Enter all the unique product identifiers such as the Product name, brand name, manufacturer name, except for the Product ID, etc.
3. Amazon will automatically generate a GCID under the Product ID field.
If you enter a GTIN-UPC code into the product identifier field then Amazon will not give you a GCID number.
FNSKU: Fulfillment Network Stock-Keeping Unit
Amazon gives you an FNSKU for each product variation when you ship the product to Amazon’s fulfillment center. For example, if you are selling green pirate mugs, every single green pirate mug gets the same FNSKU.
You must label each product with these codes so that when it is received in Amazon’s fulfillment centers, they know where to stock your product.
You have three options for affixing these codes:
- Pay Amazon $0.20 a piece to label these for you.
- Print them yourself and affix each one to every product.
- Have your supplier print it onto the retail packaging.
Where can you find the FNSKU codes?
When you print your shipping label, Amazon will generate the code for you onto a PDF.
You can choose if you (the merchant) or Amazon to affix the labels.
If you choose “merchant,” this means you must print the stickers yourself or you send one of the FNSKU labels digitally to your retail packaging supplier to have them print the FNSKU onto your retail packaging.
When you print your shipping label, Amazon will generate the code which you can save as a PDF.
You can also go to your “manage inventory” page and print the FNSKUs from the edit drop down menu on the right side of each listing.
What if “print item label” is not available?
This means your product listing was set up as FBM, fulfilled by merchant.
You can switch it to FBA by selecting, “Change to Fulfilled by Amazon.”
Then the “print item label” option will appear.
Here is what a sheet of FNSKU labels look like
What codes physically go onto your product?
The FNSKU code is printed onto your product’s retail packaging or printed on a sticker that goes on your packaging.
Where on your product does the FNKSU need to be attached?
If your product does not come with retail packaging, then the FNSKU code goes on the product itself.
Does the UPC or the EAN need to be printed onto your product?
No. The non-Amazon specific universal product code (whether it’s a UPC-A or EAN, etc.) does not need to be printed on your product or retail packaging. The FNSKU already identifies your product to Amazon.
However, if you will be selling your product in big box stores like WalMart, Home Depot, or Bed, Bath & Beyond, you will have to print the universal product code onto the retail packaging or the product itself. This allows the store to enter your product into their inventory system so they can track inventory levels.
The POS (Point of Sale) system at the retail store records the purchase of your product at checkout. This creates a seamless customer experience, so that the customer can checkout easily.
What about the other non-Amazon codes?
ISBN: International Standard Book Number
The ISBN is the GTIN for books.
It uses 13 digits and is a special form of the EAN-13 code.
JAN: Japanese Article Number JAN
This is another name for the EAN-13 barcode but for Japan.
The PZN is a code for medicine identification in Germany.
IAN: International Article Number
IAN is just a different term for EAN.
Part IV: How do you get a barcode for your product?
First, go to GS1.org.
GS1 is not an official barcode authority, but they have become the standard.
Click on the button that says "Get your barcodes".
In this example, we are getting a UPC since we are in the United States.
If you live somewhere other than the USA or Canada, you will get an EAN.
After you click on the box, a new screen will appear.
Second, answer whether you have a company prefix.
Under "Do you have a GS1 company prefix and barcodes?", you will have three options.
Choose this option if you have not purchased any barcodes before.
Choose this option if you have purchased barcodes before from GS1.
- I Don't Know
Choose this option if you have purchased barcodes but don't know if they are registered with GS1.
Third, estimate how many barcodes you need.
You will see a button that says: "Access the Barcode Estimator".
You will see this pop up:
Under "Current Products", choose how many barcodes you are purchasing right now.
Under "Future Products", guesstimate how many products you will launch in the next year including variations.
Remember: you need a separate barcode for each variation.
Most Amazon sellers will not launch more than ten products in a year. Two or three is enough to make you a ton of money.
In this example, we said two now and seven later.
GS1 will tell you what prefix capacity you need. Remember: the prefix for UPCs is the first six digits. The prefix capacity is the number of products that can have barcodes under that prefix.
In this case, the capacity is 1 to 10. In other words, if you get this prefix, it will allow you to launch 1 to 10 products.
If you are a larger company or intend on growing a lot faster, you will type a larger number of future products and get a larger prefix capacity estimate.
Exit the estimator and scroll down the GS1 page to see the pricing schedule further down the page:
The annual renewal fee allows you to continue to use barcodes. If you fail to pay, the prefix can be assigned to another brand.
The annual fee is 20% of the initial fee.
This may seem like a lot of money but, if you build your business right, hundreds of dollars are drop in the bucket compared to what you can make selling on Amazon.
UPDATE: GS1 reached out to us to let you know about their pricing update.
GS1 now offers a single UPC option for $30 with no renewal fee. See their full press release here.
Fourth, fill out your application.
GS1 lists what you need in order to purchase a barcode.
You will need a legal company name. By default, you are a sole proprietor. DBA means "doing business as". The DBA is how the customer knows you. While you may be Bobby McGee, a sole proprietor, you can be known as "McGee Technologies" to the customer.
When GS1 says "Executive contact information", that means they want the owner's contact info.
Decide how many individual items you need to identify using the barcode estimator from the previous step.
"Payment information" is your credit or debit card info.
Click the "Fill out GS1 Company Prefix Application" button. You will see the following pop-up:
If you do not already have a GS1 account, click "Skip" to go to the application.
Fill out your personal information.
If you do not produce food or drugs, mark the following question as "No":
Move on to the next step and choose your prefix capacity.
Click "Next" to continue.
Fifth, agree to terms and pay.
Once you have agreed to terms and paid, you will see a thank you page like this one:
Let me give you a brief explanation:
A traditional UPC has twelve digits. The first six are the prefix. Digits seven to eleven identify the product.
In this example, the "prefix" is ten digits. This only means that all of our product codes will all start with the same ten digits. Had we purchased prefixes with more capacity, the prefix would be shorter than ten digits.
Under "Available U.P.C.s (GTINs)", the eleventh digit goes like this: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 for a total of ten codes. The twelfth digit is the "check digit" that confirms accuracy.
Sixth, go to the GS1 Data Hub.
Go to dh.gs1us.org/product/home.
Seventh, click on "+ Add New".
Fill out the required info.
Make the product description specific enough to be able to identify each variation. For example, if you sell a different colored candles, type in "yellow candle" or "pink candle".
Leave the product industry as "General" unless you fall into the following categories: CPG (low cost customer consumables), regulated healthcare, foodservice, or apparel.
Packaging level is for when you sell your product in various quantities. (For example, if you sell toothpicks in a 50-pack, a 500-pack, and a 5,000-pack, each pack is a variation of the parent product. Each pack needs its own code. In this case, you would need 3 barcodes.) In most cases, you would select "each".
SKU is for you. If you want to identify your product internally via an SKU, type in a number.
Do not select "Is this item variable measure?" except in rare circumstances.
Choose from the options "Auto Assign GTIN", "Assign GTIN From Reserved", and "Assign GTIN Manually".
I chose to auto-assign.
The UPC and GTIN boxes will fill in for you.
Remember: a UPC is a type of GTIN.
On the right, you have the twelve digit UPC. On the left, you have fourteen.
When entering your code into Amazon:
If you select "UPC" from the dropdown, put in the twelve digit version.
If you select "GTIN" from the dropdown, include the zeros in the fourteen digit version.
Eighth, change the barcode to "In Use".
The reason the GS1 status is set to "Premarket" automatically is to allow you to preview the code before you use it.
Select "In Use" and save.
Ninth, navigate to the product barcode tab.
From here, select "Preview Barcode".
This will allow you to view, save, and print your barcode.
This is just a sample of what we teach for Amazon sellers. I put together 90 minutes of actionable, step-by-step, Amazon FBA training. Register here and let's get started.