With an ever-expanding market, Amazon rules and policies are always evolving. For an online retailer selling their products via Amazon, keeping clear sight of those rules is of the utmost importance. Closely monitoring new regulations will benefit you in the long run.
Ever since Amazon introduced changes in their policy on UPC codes in May 2016, social networks have been buzzing with questions.
For that reason, this guide will try to lead you through the process of labeling products you sell on Amazon. Most importantly, we will explain the different barcodes that are used for various purposes.
Amazon’s new UPC Policy
The new policy states:
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.
You can find it through this link (Seller Central login required)
What does this mean in practice? Well, since the changed Amazon policy has been in place for a relatively short time, there are differing views.
- Some maintain that Amazon has started to check every listing and make sure whether the UPC matches the manufacturing company.
- On the other hand, this change in policy could (for the time being, at least) mean that Amazon is only checking if the provided UPC exists in the GS1 database.
As of now, we have no reports suggesting that Amazon removes listings or blocks seller accounts due to UPS name-checking failures. However, it is difficult to foresee whether Amazon will enforce the new policy in order to clean up their entire catalog.
What is a UPC code?
UPC stands for Universal Product Code. It basically represents a barcode whose 12-digit number is read by a scanner, thus identifying your product. You might also come across an EAN code which stands for European Article Number, or International Article Number. These codes, along with JAN (Japanese Article Number), all serve the same purpose.
The UPC’s 12 digits contain two components or two pieces of information. The first 6-10 digits denote the name of the manufacturer of the product. This is known as the company prefix. The second part describes the concrete product very specifically. The last number within the barcode is the so-called Check Digit which ensures the integrity of the entire number. This digit is automatically calculated.
What is GS1?
GS1 (Global Standard 1) manages the inventory and assignment process of UPC codes. It is a not-for-profit organization developing and maintaining global standards for business communication. In a nutshell, they describe the services they provide as the “global language of business”.
GS1 supplies companies with GTINs (Global Trade Item Numbers).
UPCs (Unique Product Codes), EANs (European Article Numbers) and JANs (Japanese Article Numbers) are all different types of GTINs.
How do you get a UPC code?
The two different opinions on what the new Amazon policy entails also lead to two different sources for the purchase of UPC codes.
Buying UPCs from GS1
GS1 company prefix
To begin the process of creating your individual barcode, you have to license a company prefix from GS1. The company prefix is of variable length which depends on how many barcodes you need. Here is a table of different “capacities” of each company prefix length.
|Company Prefix Length||U.P.C. barcodes you can create|
After you license your company prefix, you will be provided with the UPC company prefix. The rest of the numbers comprising your UPC code refer to the specific items.
When applying for the company prefix, it is important to keep sight on your needs, both now and in the long term. Of course, you cannot always accurately predict your business’ future growth. Therefore, in case your scope of operation exceeds your initial expectations rapidly, you can acquire another company prefix. However, it would be best to account for future expansion while initially applying. After you register, GS1 will send you your Company Prefix Certificate, which also contains the UPC company prefix. Check this link for more details.
Once your company prefix is all set, you will have to provide unique individual numbers to your products. According to the number of products you specified in your application, GS1 will give you a number of digits which you will then apply. When you complete the entire procedure, you can get a digital copy of your UPC from GS1 and include it in your product’s package.
As for the fees, it all depends on your current and projected business needs. An entry-level cost will set you back $250, plus an annual $50 renewal fee for your company prefix. This will buy you 10 UPC codes registered to your name. Naturally, if you plan on selling a product line consisting of hundreds of different items, the fee will increase.
|Number of UPC||Initial fee||Annual renewal fee|
|1 – 10||$250||$50|
|1 – 100||$750||$150|
|1 – 1,000||$2,500||$500|
|1 – 10,000||$6,500||$1,300|
|1 – 100,000||$10,500||$2,100|
|NDC/NHRIC Company Prefix||$2,100||$2,100|
Buying UPCs from a third party reseller
If you are considering ordering your UPCs from a reseller, there are some we have heard good things about.
Nationwide Barcode offer inexpensive UPCs, but most importantly, they guarantee the legitimacy and unique features of the numbers used. All of their barcodes have been originally issued by the Uniform Code Council (UCC), which is what GS1 was formerly known as. One purchased UPC costs $10. However, a larger purchase will decrease the individual price. You can get ten UPCs for $37.50, one hundred for $65, and 1,000 for $280. You get the picture.
Another suggestion would be Barcodesmania. Similarly, they advertise barcodes that originate from GS1 and guarantee that the codes are unique and authentic. Buying from this reseller, you can get even lower prices: for example, 100 UPC codes will cost you $45.
The final decision really depends on your business plan/goal, as we cannot make one for you. Having said that, we cannot underestimate the fact that buying UPCs from a third party comes much cheaper.
If Amazon is not your only selling channel (for example, you have plans to expand to Walmart or Target), then buying UPCs from GS1 might be a good choice.
Another scenario: you did well selling private label products on Amazon, and the UPC cost may not seem expensive any more. In that case, too, you can go with GS1.
If you are just starting out as an Amazon seller, we would like to emphasize that Amazon does urge you to buy your UPCs from GS1. Still, it is not illegal per se to get them from a third party, as a lot of people still acquire UPCs this way. However, if you get your UPCs from a reseller, we advise you to always use a reputable one. It would be highly ill-advised to use software-generated UPC codes.
Also, if it is imperative that your UPC code contains your company prefix, the only solution would be getting them directly from GS1.
Private Label, Brand Registry, and GTIN exemption
Good news for private label sellers: in certain categories, you can apply for a GTIN exemption through Amazon’s Brand Registry. Amazon will assign your products with a Global Catalog Identifier (GCID), which can be used in place of a UPC. You can apply for the Brand Registry here. And here is a great guide by JungleScout.
To request a GTIN exemption, your product must not be on Amazon’s list of brands and you must apply with the following information:
- A support letter from the brand owner, manufacturer or publisher to prove that a GTIN cannot be provided, OR,
- A list of sample products for review.
Still, be prepared that there is no guarantee that you will be getting a GTIN exemption by Brand Registry.
Applying a UPC to your product
Amazon FBA accepts two types of barcodes to identify your products:
Manufacturer barcodes (GCID, UPC, EAN, JAN, or ISBN are all a possibility)
Amazon barcodes (ASIN, FNSKU, or MSKU).
Here, we will only discuss UPC and FNSKU, as these are the most commonly used.
What is FNSKU?
FNSKU is a code specifically used by Amazon. It is their unique barcode which is placed on each product sold through Amazon. The acronym itself stands for Fulfillment Network Stock Keeping Unit.
We recommend you to use the FNSKU code applied over the UPC, physically covering it. Otherwise, Amazon will commingle your inventory with other sellers who sell the same products, which will create some unnecessary risk for you. Find more information here.
How to get your FNSKU?
Once you have listed your sales item, you can go to the Manage Inventory page and choose the Print Item Labels option. That way, Amazon will generate your FNSKU code. You can choose the format, as well as the number of labels to print. From there on, you will have the following two options.
Printing it on your package
You can print the FNSKU code directly on each of your packages, send your FNSKU pdf file to your package designer or your supplier, and they will do it accordingly. But bear in mind that, if you sell in several marketplaces, this may make managing your inventory difficult.
Rather than printing it directly on your package, you can also use stickers containing the FNSKU code. You can ask your supplier or your prep center to do it. Amazon can do it for you, as well. However, this will cost USD 0.2/item and will slow down your check-in process.
Keep in mind: when sending your product to Amazon, the packaging should contain only one scannable barcode.
Some Frequently Asked Questions
How many UPCs do I need?
You will need a barcode for each product you sell AND its variation. This includes variations in size, color, and weight. For example, you manufacture and/or sell a pair of pants that come in three colors, each in five sizes. This would entail acquiring 15 different UPCs, rather than just one.
Changing the UPC on an existing listing on Amazon?
Changing a UPC on a listing that exists on Amazon is not possible. You would need to remove the listing with the incorrect information and create a new one. And, you’re right, this would be a major hassle as you’d lose your entire sales history, reviews, and ranking.
Check your UPC
If you have already bought a UPC code of an unverified origin, you can check if they are really in GS1’s database through this link.
Conclusion / Wrap Up
The aim of this Guide was to present you with various options you have as a seller on Amazon. In the end, it all comes down to your business plan and envisaged market presence. Whatever your choice may be, we strongly advise you to keep closely monitoring any future policy changes by Amazon. These could have a profound effect on your day-to-day business operations.