If you’re selling on Amazon, barcodes aren’t foreign to you. The marketplace accepts only one kind, however – Global Standard 1 (GS1) barcodes. GS1 has set the global standard for Universal product Codes (UPCs), or the barcodes that are used in the supply chain.
The policy on Amazon GS1 barcode use was updated in 2016, but the marketplace has not been too strict about it. Moving forward, however, seller may find that they will have to use an Amazon GS1 barcode for each item they sell if they want to continue listing there.
What Are Amazon GS1 Barcodes?
In short, an Amazon GS1 barcode is a UPC that has been acquired through GS1.
A barcode is a string of members that identifies both the product manufacturer and the product itself. The first six to nine numbers in a barcode is the company prefix, a unique manufacturer code that is stored in the GS1 database. GS1 provides this unique company prefix to companies who register with them.
A company prefix is used to create Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs). UPCs, EANs (European Article Numbers) and JANs (Japanese Article Numbers) are all different kinds of codes that are created based on GTINs. Every product supplier in the GS1 database gets a GTIN, and every code obtained on that account is linked to that GTIN.
GTINs are translated into the machine-readable code made of a pattern of lines of different thicknesses that we know as barcodes. This is what is stickered onto products so that they can be scanned and identified in warehouses and stores as being a certain product belonging to a certain manufacturer.
Your Amazon GS1 Barcode
If you purchased an Amazon GS1 barcode from GS1, those first several numbers are your company prefix and will not change. If you bought barcodes from somewhere else, you are using UPCs that have been previously assigned to a different company and product. This can mean trouble.
Why You Need Your Own Amazon GS1 Barcode
It’s not strictly illegal to reuse barcodes, but it can be tricky. For instance, you could be using a barcode that:
- is still being used for another, completely different product
- was assigned to a product in a completely different category with a different license
- is a replicated UPC code that is not searchable within the GS1 system and therefore cannot be verified
GS1 also has a published 2002 license agreement that states that GS1 membership forbids anyone from using the company prefix of another company. This means that any sale, reuse, lease, or similar sharing of GS1-issued barcodes from 2002 onwards is against their terms. This also means that GS1 is the only place where you can now purchase legitimate barcodes for your products.
A legitimate Amazon GS1 barcode, however, is strictly a barcode obtained from GS1, regardless of the year when it was issued. You may have been able to get away with using barcodes that you obtained from resellers, but not for long. It looks like the marketplace is going to start checking all the UPCs used for products listed to see if they check out on the GS1 database.
If you have been using barcodes that you purchased from somewhere other than GS1, they may not pass the test. Without authentic GS1 UPCs, your ASINs could be delisted at any time per the updated Amazon GS1 barcode policy. Every seller is now being required to register with GS1 to get a legitimate GTIN for each ASIN that they have listed on the marketplace.
Getting an Amazon GS1 barcode for each of your products is more expensive than going through a reseller. It can cost you from an initial $250 setup fee all the way to $10,000 if you are selling a wide variety of products. You also have to renew your registration every year to keep your prefix active, which costs between $50 and $3,000 – again, depending on the size of your account. Still, you could end up losing that much or more if you purchase elsewhere and Amazon calls you out on it.
Register Your Own GS1 Prefix
Visit the GS1 website and open an account with them so you can apply for a company prefix. This will safeguard your listings on Amazon since each of your products will have legitimate Amazon GS1 barcode with the unique GS1-generated product code and check digit affixed to the end of your identifier. This means that each code can be traced back to your company, identifying it as yours.
With your company prefix, you can add each of your products and GS1 will assign them a unique product number. Your product IDs will consist of a fixed set of numbers depending on how many products you indicated that you would be selling when you registered. You can choose a numbering system to use to make naming easier for Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) variations. For Amazon, your UPC codes – consisting of your company prefix and product ID – must equal eleven digits plus a check digit that GS1 calculates based on those eleven.
Download the barcode image or the digital barcode file from GS1 to use in designing your product labels. You can also order barcode stickers to stick on pre-designed labels or product packaging. Make sure that you use the correct barcode on each package to avoid problems with the wrong items being shipped to customers. Also make sure that you place the barcodes where they are clearly visible and easily scannable. Amazon automates much of the receiving process, so products with unscannable barcodes are likely to be considered unfulfillable inventory, which can be as good as lost if you aren’t careful. It’s much easier to just make sure your barcodes are clear and correctly placed from the start.
The 2016 Amazon GS1 Barcodes Update
The Amazon GS1 barcode requirements were updated in 2016, but no big announcement accompanied it. The Seller Central product UPC and GTINs policy now says that the marketplace verifies product authenticity against the GS1 database. If your UPCs don’t match what shows on a GS1 search, they will be considered invalid. The only way to be sure that your UPCs have the same information as what’s on GS1 is to buy them from GS1.
Amazon has long faced the problem of duplicate listings. Instead of checking the catalog, sellers use their own barcodes on products that already exist on the catalog. This confuses customers and causes reviews to be spread over various listings instead of consolidated on a single listing for what is essentially the same product. By using the GS1 database to cross check product codes, Amazon will be able to verify the true products and eliminate the duplicates – of which there are currently millions.
As a legitimate seller, you will have your own company prefix and not be using the codes of some other business, which of course have their prefix on them.
Amazon hasn’t been strictly checking all UPCs – mostly focusing on new listings and sellers who are listing other brands – but they could soon start checking everything. It is clear on their policy that they could look into your listings at any time and flag them if your codes don’t reflect the same manufacturer, brand and title that you have on your listings. The process is automated, so it’s basically only a matter of time before they get around to yours. Once they do, any listings with invalid product UPCs will be removed, and your ASIN creation or selling privileges can also be temporarily or permanently removed as a direct result.
Now there are some cases where you should not be using a barcode assigned to you by GS1:
You sell a product that isn’t branded under your company.
When you resell another brand’s product, you should not be using your UPCs but the barcode purchased and supplied by the manufacturer or brand. Your seller account can be shut down if you slap your own UPC on someone else’s product. You could also face serious legal charges from the brand owner.
If the products don’t have a barcode, get in touch with the manufacturer or your supplier to get it sorted out. There’s no master list where you can search for the correct barcodes because brands aren’t required to register individual UPCs.
The same applies to bundled products from a brand other than your own. You need to request the UPC that applies to the bundle.
In case a product or bundle doesn’t have a GTIN, apply with Amazon for an exemption from their UPC requirement. Prepare images of the product and a letter from the brand owner stating that they do not have a GTIN for the product. If available, include a link to the product page on the official website in your application.
You sell a private label product in an exempt category.
Amazon allows private label products in certain categories to be sold without a UPC if you apply for an exemption. Amazon will then assign a Global Catalog Identifier (GCID) to the product that you will use instead of a UPC.
Private label bundle products need a separate GS1 UPC that is unique to the bundle. Using one of the individual products’ UPCs is not permitted. When the products in the bundle are from multiple brands, you can apply for a GTIN exemption as above.
Correct Your Listings with Incorrect UPCs
If you are reselling products with codes that you purchased from a barcode reseller, the best thing to do is:
- Search the Amazon catalog for an existing listing.
- Verify with the manufacturer or brand owner that the information is correct.
- If correct:
- list anew against that existing listing, and
- shut down your previous listing that has the incorrect UPC.
- If no correct listing exists:
- get the correct information,
- shut down or merge your listing, and
- relist with the correct information.
If you have Brand Registry, then all you need to do is change your key product attribute since you don’t need to list with a UPC. Get Brand registry support if needed to change it and confirm when successful. You can also create a new listing with the correct information then merge it with the old listing.