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5 Important Facts About Product Coding

What Merchandise Sellers Need to Know

product coding, packaging solutions

The carton of eggs in your refrigerator. The new hardcover book on your shelf. Those socks still in their packaging that you got for Christmas. The reusable water bottle that never leaves your side. Believe it or not, all these things have something in common: product codes. Whether you’re starting out in merchandise sales or expanding your business, you need to know the in’s and out’s of product coding.

Product codes are unique identifiers that are an important part of tracking sales and inventory. In our globalized world of mass production, these codes are an integral way to communicate what a product is and to keep track of it from production floor all the way to store shelf. There are many different types of product codes and some products use several distinct codes. The world of product coding might seem overwhelming at first, but just like product codes themselves, you will find it is a streamlined form of organization.

#1: Product Codes Help You Compete in the Marketplace

If you’re planning on selling products in brick-and-mortar retail stores or on e-commerce sites, there’s no getting around it: you need a way to track your sales and inventory. Product codes are the best way to do it.

product coding, packaging solutions

Product codes make it easy to identify product features, including the brand name, type of item, size, weight, and color of a product when it’s scanned at checkout. This helps speed up the process. The codes also help retailers track and manage their inventories, and they create a better experience for consumers. All of this helps you stay competitive in the dog-eat-dog world of retail sales.

The first step you should take, after your product is created and before packaging, marketing or selling, is to create a unique product code.

#2: There Are Different Types of Product Codes

product coding, packaging solutions

Barcode is the umbrella term for the familiar series of lines you see on the back of most retail products today. Each barcode contains two parts: a series of lines of varying width and a sequence of numbers. The numbers are the product code that can be read by humans. The lines are machine-readable code that can be scanned by computers to do everything from speeding up the checkout process to making it easier to track inventory and sales. Barcodes are essential in today’s globalized retail economy. All product codes can be displayed as barcodes. For internal inventory, many businesses rely on custom SKUs. These local identifiers be helpful for your business, but if you want to sell your products to other companies or through e-commerce giants like Amazon and Walmart, you will need to get internationally recognized product codes. Some of the most common product codes include:

  • UPC Codes: 12-digit numbers found on most retail products in the U.S. UPC codes are issued by a non-profit called GS1 US, which sets standards for international commerce. If you’re selling in the U.S. and Canada, you’ll need UPC codes for your product(s).

  • EAN Codes: European Article Numbers (EANs) are 13-digit numbers used in Europe on retail products. Like UPC codes, EANs help product sellers track their products. Any UPC code can be converted into an EAN by adding a zero to the beginning of the code. If you’re planning to sell internationally, you’ll need EANs for your products.

  • ASIN: In 2019, Amazon surpassed Walmart as the world’s largest online retailer. The company is now so enormous it has its own product ID numbers, called Amazon Standard Identification Numbers (ASINs). If you plan to hawk your merch on Amazon, ASINs are mandatory. The upside: ASINs make your products easier for people to find and they can protect you against counterfeiters. Getting an ASIN is easier than you think.

  • ISBN: International Standard Book Numbers, or ISBNs, are special identifying codes for books, magazines, e-books, and other published media. ISBNs help publishers track how many books they’re selling and where. Different editions of the same book have unique ISBNs, making it easier to find specific copies. Each country has its own ISBN agency. If you are planning on self-publishing a book or magazine, don’t forget to acquire an ISBN!

  • QR Codes: Quick Response or QR codes are scannable matrix-style barcodes that often contain data for a locator, identifier, or tracker that points to a website or application. They’re used in everything from consumer advertising to entertainment ticketing.

  • FDA Product Codes: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has its own set of product codes for food, beverages, drugs, and medical devices. The codes are a combination of five to seven numbers and letters. Read this tutorial, then use this FDA product code builder to determine the right code for your products.

#3: UPC Codes are the Most Important Product Code in the U.S.

The advent of UPC codes made computerized billing and checkouts possible. UPC

codes are ubiquitous in the U.S. today—they’re on everything from electronics to food to medications. In fact, UPC codes are the most recognizable product code in the world.

If you’re planning on selling your products in the U.S., you’ll need UPC codes. They’re not only helpful to track sales and inventory, but many sellers say they’re a primary driver of business growth, since UPC codes make products easier to find and more discoverable online.

#4: You Must Register and Pay for UPC Codes

To get UPC codes for your products, you need to register with GS1 US and pay a membership fee. In return, they’ll issue you a 6- to 10-digit company prefix, which you’ll use on all of your products.

Once you have your company prefix, you can start issuing unique numbers for each of your products. Then you can order as many barcodes as you need, print them out, and attach them to your products (or hire a company to help you develop a labeling system).

product coding, packaging solutions

You’ll need different UPC codes for each product you sell, even if the differences are minor. For example, if you sell 16-ounce and 32-ounce bottles of the same lavender-scented lotion, you’ll need different UPC codes for each.

The fee to register with GS1 ranges dramatically, from hundreds of dollars to thousands, depending on how many products you need UPC codes for. Annual license renewal fees range from $50 to $2,100.

Some new merchandise sellers make the mistake of buying UPC codes through third party resellers. Though this can save money in the short term, it can lead to legal trouble and delegitimize your business in the long run.

#5: Once You Secure Product Codes, You Can Hire Someone to Help You with Product Labeling

So, you’ve done your due diligence and secured product codes. Now what? Your next step is designing your product packaging—whether it’s a box, a glass bottle, or vacuum-sealed plastic wrap.

This requires computer design expertise; translating designs into 3D and getting feedback on the success of the design. If this sounds overwhelming or you don’t have the budget to hire a dedicated product designer, you have another option: getting help from an expert.


GCB Solutions has the packaging industry experience to help you through shifting trends. We offer custom packaging services, including carton erecting and filling, taping, gluing, coding, and labeling using state-of-the-art equipment. GCB Solutions is even capable of integrating UPC and other product codes, expiration dates, lot numbers, batch codes and more into existing packaging. Whether you are beginning the design process or looking to make that final push to launch, we can help.

Call us at (904) 263-2804 or schedule a free consultation, today!


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