Barcodes are probably the most forgotten element of online retail. For many of us our knowledge of barcodes goes as far as the black and white lines that get scanned at every point of sale that we use. But in actual fact, barcodes serve a purpose throughout the supply chain and also help optimise your product to surface in online searches.
Lorna Leaver of GS1, a non-profit organisation which develops and maintains global standards for business communication, unpacks for us the topic of barcodes and gives clear insight into the importance of product identification for online businesses.
Lorna is the Engagement Manager GS1 UK. Having a background in retail eCommerce and specialising in marketplaces, Lorna joined GS1’s engagement team to use her experience in trading online to help sellers and marketplaces come together using industry standards to improve buying experiences for customers. She previously ran the marketplace operations for global retailers such as Mothercare, Early Learning Centre, Boohoo and most recently the shoe retailer Dune London.
What are barcodes
Barcodes are black and white machine readable lines that identify a specific product and serve a purpose throughout the supply chain down to the point of sale.
Over the last 40 years as the barcode has been different names have come in. The term Universal Product Code (UPC) originated in the United States and the term European Article Number (EAN) in Europe. The global standard is referred to as the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN).
However, there is a technical difference with them. The UPC has 12 digits and the EAN and GTIN both have 13.
Whether you trade online or offline you should care about barcodes because marketplaces do. No matter your business, if you have a product, you will require a barcode.
Barcodes make doing business more efficient by providing a way to track and store information about each product. At GS1 we liken the barcode to a passport number for the product. It's like a key that enables you to understand what that product is.
Barcodes matter even if you don’t manufacture products
If you're not the manufacturer or the brand owner, then there is no need for you to be a member of GS1. You wouldn't be applying your own numbers to the products that you are selling.
To acquire the barcodes you would need to go back to the manufacturer or brand owner because as soon as you start the listing process, you will be asked for them. We recommend that to acquire the barcode you go as high up to the manufacturing standpoint as possible.
It is between your business and the brand that you're trying to sell. For example, if you're buying units of Nike trainers to sell on Amazon, Nike will need to provide you with some kind of approval to show that you're a licensed seller. Amazon will then need to see that verification of approval before they can allow you to list your products on their site.
The main problem people experience with barcodes when it comes to Amazon
Amazon is required to have a GTIN barcode.
People get their GTINs from GS1 and put them onto the Amazon listing by selecting GTIN as the identifier. However, Amazon doesn’t accept it because it is actually expecting a 14 digit GTIN.
A basic GTIN is 13 digits. If you put your product into cases or six or 12, the number on the outside of the case will be a 14 digit number. The case that represents the six or the 12 will have a GTIN 14 so it has an additional number to identify that it's the level up. The 14 digit number identifies multiple products. Amazon accepts this because it can sell the product at base level and the case level.
Barcodes offer brand protection
There is quite a lot that goes into the world of brand protection of trademarks but making sure that the barcode licence is registered to yourself is definitely key. It's just one piece of the puzzle.
It is useful to know that the first part of the 13 digit GTIN is unique to your company.
Barcodes are easily accessible
There are other places where you can get barcodes but you must have guarantee that the barcodes are genuine. If they aren’t genuine then it defeats the purpose of having them at all.
If you are looking to sell on Amazon it is critical to have genuine barcodes because Amazon checks to make sure that each barcode is globally unique.
GS1 has 114 offices and so it is very likely that wherever you are, wherever you sell from, there is a GS1 office nearby. All you need to do is pick whatever language and time zone suits you best.
How to know if a barcode is genuine
GS1 offers a unique, online service called GEPIR (Global Electronic Party Information Registry) that gives member companies access to the GS1 unique identification system.
By simply typing or scanning a barcode number into GEPIR members can find basic information about the licensed owner of that barcode.
Key principles to consider when barcoding products
You should be thinking about three guiding principles whenever you make a change to your product.
i) A consumer needs to know that there has been a change to the product.
If a product has got a different look, pattern or material you will need to allocate the product with a new barcode so that the customer remains informed. As a business you will need to allocate a different barcode that reflects the slight change in your product.
ii) There has been a regulation change for the product.
An example is the sugar tax. If a manufacturer decides to make a sugar free version of a product so as to avoid the sugar tax, they will need to change the GTIN on the product so that it can be identified as the sugar free version.
iii) There has been a change in the supply chain.
This comes down to sizes. If for example you change the volume of your aerosol and made it a lot smaller to make it more eco friendly with less packaging, this will take up a lot less space in the lorries. The supply chain needs to be able to identify what the differences are because they will be able to fit a lot more into the lorries
If there's about a 20% change to the size or 20% change to the contents of the product, then you have to change the barcode.
The cost of an annual subscription with GS1
Annual subscription with GS1 starts from £119 plus vat. It depends on the turnover of the business and how many barcodes you need.
Takeaway #1: Barcodes are critical for your online business.
Takeaway #2: Barcodes are like a passport number for the product - it tells you everything you need for product identification.
Takeaway #3: If you're planning to sell a product on Amazon first check the licence owner to make sure the barcode is licensed to the manufacturer of the product. To run this check you can use the GS1 database at:https://gepir.gs1.org/ (there is an app available for this too, search ‘igepir’.
For some fun, take this short informal quiz to test your knowledge of how to barcode and measure your products correctly: https://www.gs1uk.org/bossing-the-basics !
Connect with Lorna Leaver:
You can also email GS1 at firstname.lastname@example.org or call freephone 0808 178 8799 or alternatively call 020 7092 3501.