What are UPC codes?

Continuing from What are SKUs, UPC means Universal Product Code. Unlike SKUs, UPCs are controlled by GS1 (formerly UCC), which is an international supply chain standards organization. UPC codes are intended to mark and facilitate product transactions universally, usually via bar coding.

If you sell to larger stores, you may be required to have UPC codes. There is quite a bit of debate over how one should get them which I’ll discuss later but for now, these are the basics. I know a lot of people are going to jump in with advice on how to buy one or two from a reseller but I prefer we refrain from doing that just yet. It will be discussed, promise.

To get UPC codes, you must join GS1. It can be spendy. The figure most often quoted is a $750 initiation fee with a $150 annual maintence fee. One member in the forum says she got a small company discount ($500 fee) by calling and asking about it specifically. This discount is not mentioned anywhere on the site.

Being an external tracking mechanism, you have much less control over the actual number. You will be assigned a number unique to your company. The official name for this number is GTIN (Global Trade Item Number) but is commonly called a business ID number or company code or something like that. The number you get (number of digits) is determined by the number of barcodes you want to buy. The more codes you buy, the fewer the GTIN digits. You do have control over which number (called IRN or Item Reference Number) to assign to the actual product.

Next: How to assign SKUs and UPC codes

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3 comments

  1. Beth says:

    My launch is at the Texas State Fair. They stated that they provide bar codes for $.03 each. That was fine until my phone call last night when it was clear that the man is used to dealing with jams and soaps and not 3 sizes of baby clothes with different designs applied in embroidery or direct-to-garment printing in either ringspun cotton or organic cotton…I’m beside myself trying to figure out what to do by the end of this week. My husband and I are already packaging everything ourselves with my own labels and I have to upholster my display.
    I’ve seen the sites where you can generate your own UPC codes but they don’t seem to realize that it’s more than art. I’ve got 2 sales under my belt. With the fair’s system, I would know how many $30 garments I’ve sold, but not which design, size or color. What a nightmare!

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